Film Adaptations – Atonement

Keira Knightley and James McAvoy as Cecilia and Robbie in an early scene of Atonement

Keira Knightley and James McAvoy as Cecilia and Robbie in an early scene of Atonement

Following my reviews of Pride & Prejudice and One Day I think I’ve saved the best for last in my short series of film adaptation reviews, this week I’m looking at Atonement.

The bestselling novel by Ian McEwan begins in the summer of 1935. The first half of the book follows the lives of three characters over just one day. Each chapter tells the story from one point of view sometimes following the same event. The main characters are; Robbie Turner the housekeepers son and resident gardener at the Tallis household his childhood friend Cecila Tallis who he drifted apart from as they became adults and Cecilia’s 13 year old sister Briony.

As the events of the day unfold, one of which entails Cecilia diving into a fountain to rescue a broken vase in a sheer slip, Robbie realises that he is in love with Cecilia. He decides to write down his feelings in a letter to her. While he’s writing he drafts a version of the letter that he never intended anybody to see which reveals his sexual desire for Cecilia.

Robbie is invited to dinner with the Tallis family and meets Briony on his way, he gives her the letter to hand to Cecilia before he arrives. Shortly after he realises that he has given Briony the wrong letter, but he is too late and she has read it. Later that evening Lola, a cousin staying with the family, is raped, Briony interrupts it and catches a glimpse of the attacker. After reading Robbie’s latter and walking in on him in embrace with Cecilia earlier that evening, Briony tells the police that she believes it to be him. He is found guilty.

The second part of the book follows the three characters several years later in the midst of the second world war. Cecilia is a nurse and pines after Robbie who is a soldier situated in France. Briony is also working as a nurse and constantly tortures herself with the guilt of her childhood actions.

The film, directed by Joe Wright, is executed brilliantly. There aren’t any missing plot points, each scene is beautifully compiled – I think that a still could be taken from any point and it would be worth framing, and the actors perform their roles wonderfully.

Keira Knightley manages to portray Cecilia’s emotions perfectly, from her unforgiving bitterness to her sister to her sweet awkward love for Robbie. Before Robbie is deployed to France he meets with Cecilia for the first time since they were torn apart. The lovers had only had a few hours together before he was cruelly taken away and since then their relationship consisted of letters. It’s almost silly that their first meeting is the ritual of afternoon tea in a cafe, after all the events between them. Both actors depict the awkward tension between Cecilia and Robbie brilliantly.

Aside from the stifled romance, there are some other brilliant scenes in the film (and novel). Robbie undergoes some horrific events as a soldier in the war. There is one beautifully heartbreaking scene where Robbie reaches the coast of France and sees the terrible state that it is – no food or shelter, hundreds of soldiers stranded on the beach, unwanted horses being shot dead – to the beautiful soundtrack and the chorus of soldiers singing Dear Lord and Father of mankind.

I couldn’t commend Atonement any more, both the book and the film are exquisite works and I recommend that you go read the book immediately and then watch the film – make sure you pick up a packet of tissues too!

One Response to “Film Adaptations – Atonement”
  1. charldibs says:

    I’ve just read the book and I loved it. Not watched the film for many years, so I think a re-watch is in order!

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