Ah, young love! There’s nothing like it if it’s done well (in film), but it doesn’t always end happily. I went to see this film in the theater when it first came out; it stayed on my mind for some time. I saw it again recently, and gained more appreciation for it.
Cecilia Tallis (Keira Knightley) and Robbie Turner (James McAvoy) are two young people in their early 20s who are spending a hot summer day on a gorgeous estate. She is the old man’s daughter; he is the housekeeper’s son. They both attended Cambridge- he w/ the money and blessings of Mr. Tallis. Soon, Robbie plans to go to med school. Cecilia is restless- waiting for something to happen.
The film starts slow, but it doesn’t take too long to see that Robbie and Cecilia are suppressing their intense attraction to each other. Cecilia’s precocious 12 y.o. sister, Briony (Saoirse Ronan), has a huge crush on Robbie. In the past, she has written many stories, bound them in leather, and presented them to Robbie as gifts. He looks on Briony as a good friend, calling her “pal.” (Briony is the central character in the story; she’s also the storyteller.)
Briony misunderstands several events througout the day and evening. In no time, everything is shattered for the couple. Being a sheltered and judgmental child, Briony doesn’t realize the impact of her words/actions. Robbie is yanked off to jail; Cecilia leaves the family. In time, he’s sent to fight in France; she becomes a nurse.
The first section of this film is particularly appealing to the eye. We see beautiful flowers, streams, and lots of sunlight. At dinner, Cecilia is a vision in a flowing green gown. Director Joe Wright refers to this portion as “the time before the fall” (before WWII, before the lovers are separated).
This film really sets a mood. At times, it may seem a bit too slow to some viewers. There was great chemistry between Keira and James, and they look amazing together! I enjoyed how Romola Garai (who plays the young adult Briony) did a lot w/ very little dialogue. The supporting characters all fit their parts; Benedict Cumberbatch was creepy (in a subtle way) as the chocolate millionaire, Paul Marshall.
The adult Briony (played by Vanessa Redgrave) atones for her terrible mistake by giving the lovers a happy ending in her novel. She creates an almost too good hero in Robbie. Atonement made me think of all the young people (from many nations) who died b/c of the events of WWII. They never got the chance to fulfill their potential, have relationships, and grow old.