Atonement, first released in 2007, is one of those films that I’m sure I’ll watch many times over the years without ever getting tired of it. Based on the novel of the same name by Ian McEwan, it is one of my favourite book-to-film adaptations, managing to accurately translate onto the screen both the characters’ feelings and misinterpretations that are part of the plot of the book.
The story starts in 1935. Briony Tallis, a 13-year-old girl from a wealthy English family, has just finished writing a play and is trying to stage it with the help of her three visiting cousins – a teenage girl, Lola, and the youngest twin brothers. Since they get bored and decide to go swimming instead, Briony finds herself alone in the room and witnesses a moment of sexual tension between her older sister, Cecilia, and Robbie Turner, the son of a long-time servant. However, she misunderstands what she observes, leading to a gloomy outcome, which she passes the rest of her life trying to atone for.
Directed by Joe Wright, the film achieves to exceptionally convey important actions and details that make the story move forward. The difference between what really happened between Cecilia and Robbie near the house’s fountain and Briony’s erroneous interpretation is translated onto the screen through the shutting of a window. There is also the bee on the room, the wrong letter, and the hair adornment falling on the floor close to the library.
The camera work and direction are also masterful and awe-inspiring. The atmosphere achieved during the beach scene in Dunkirk, for example, leaves my heart aching every single time I watch it. It is a perfect mix of camera movement, colours and sound. In fact, the music is another of the highlights of the film, which won the Oscar for best original score.
Finally, I have to mention the fantastic performances by all the actors involved, who managed to fully portray the complexities of the characters, their anguish, their need to hide emotions or actions. The film stars Keira Knightley as Cecilia, James McAvoy as Robbie, and Saoirse Ronan, Romola Garai and Vanessa Redgrave as Briony at different ages.
Atonement is not only one of my favourite book-to-film adaptations, but also one of my favourite films of all time. The range of emotions it manages to convey in more or less two hours is impressive.