Already with Oscar buzz buzzing, is this Ian McEwan adaptation directed by Joe Wright (who did the good 'Pride & Prejudice' last year) and starring a superb cast.

In 1935, 13-year-old Briony misconstrues a flirtation between her older sister Cecilia (Knightley) and the housekeeper's son Robbie (MacAvoy). When her cousin gets raped, Briony lays the blame on poor Robbie. He gets sent off to prison just as World War II erupts, and the consequences of Briony's actions haunt the characters' lives throughout the conflict.

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A strong script, some fine acting, and some very assured directing from Joe Wright make up a very watchable film. Atonement is an interesting dissection of a theme, and proves to be a mature and confident cinematic treat.

In 1935, 13-year-old Briony misconstrues a flirtation between her older sister Cecilia (Knightley) and the housekeeper's son Robbie (MacAvoy). When her cousin gets raped, Briony lays the blame on poor Robbie. He gets sent off to prison just as World War II erupts, and the consequences of Briony's actions haunt the characters' lives throughout the conflict.

Keira Knightley, often mocked for her lantern jaw and posh-toff accent, can be just right, depending on the role. Here she shines as Cecilia. It’s her second film with Pride and Prejudice director Joe Wright, who brings out polished performances in every member of his cast. Standing head and shoulders above the rest is the mighty James MacAvoy, portraying a real man who works hard in the gardens but scrubs up well for dinner with the mannered cognoscenti.

Nothing compares to an English summer. The first third of the film takes place in and around the stately home where Cecilia has grown up. The glowing cinematography conveys the heat of the day while the soundtrack features a fly buzzing around hitting the windows of the house. It really feels hot, and it’s a relief when the characters jump into the pools or the lake to cool off. Perhaps hotter is the love scene between Knightley and MacAvoy. It's one of the most erotic moments in recent cinematic memory, yet simply comprised of close-ups and ragged breathing.

The initial warmth of the picture (Perhaps the film’s strongest section) soon cools as the characters are separated. The bleak shadow of WWII creeps in. From then on, the film takes place either at night or in overcast landscapes – French swamps or grimy cities.

Tonally, the film is spot on. The action, landscapes and colour palette mirror the characters’ emotional states. If the whole affair feels a bit novelistic (it is, after all, an adaptation), a surprising final coda reveals that this is entirely the point. By then an oppressive feeling of regret has enshrouded the picture, as Briony’s need to atone for the sins of her past has become painfully clear.

But before this reviewer gets swept away in self-concious literate ramblings, it should be pointed out that Atonement can sometimes be a bit flowery for the casual movie-goer. Robbie keeps hearing Cecilia’s voice echoing inside his head: “Come back to me. Come back to me.” At times this is like a flashback to Titanic’s “I’ll never let go, Jack.” The war-time scenes can also look a bit cheap and very easy on the blood & gore factor. It looks like the filmmakers have rented a disused London factory at night, set up some bright lights and a smoke machine.

The crowning moment of the film is the very long (did someone say five-minutes?) tracking shot which follows Robbie along the beach-front at Dunkirk. It’s very impressive, if a little showy. And it perhaps sums up the entire film – theatrical but made with care. Much thought has gone into making this flick, and it proves to be a wonderful meditation on a theme that will sit with you for days afterwards.

The Peoples' Reviews

Average ratings from 11 ratings, 11 reviews
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Such a good movie! Made me cry a river, then my friend built me a bridge so i could get over it.......ha! This is such a amazing movie! Such great filming and story line! So unique and exquisite! I would watch it 100 times over if i had the time! lol....

BY D-F-Stuckey superstar

This is a most intriguing film, using as it does two viewpoints ro create what could be called a tragedy of errors. The young woman with the imagination on full throttle who mistakes the meaning of her sister's interactions with the young gardener makes a decision to act in a way that impacts those around her in a way greater than she could ever imagine.

And an ending you cannot see coming that is, despite some peopel's doubts, part of real events in history.

you all love this pommy bbc sort of thing, bodice ripper in a way.Odd dunkirk event. Great for the scene setters and of course the twist at the end .

fantastic script, wonderful acting, great cast. the young briony plays so well, (as did all 3) should be up for an oscar no doubts. not at all what i thought would unveil from the trailer. i loved this movie, apart from the dunkirk scene which was overdone, (the beach scene alone would have done without going ashore) the typewriter "clicking" with the music added a very intense tone to the film which did such justice. could watch it again and again.

Great acting. Great story. Nicely filmed.

I read the book and was hoping not to be disappointed in the film and I wasn't. I think this is the first time where the book and film are on the same level as each other.

Was surprised by Keira's acting chops but I always love James MacAvoy. All three Briony's were very good too.

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The Press Reviews

83% of critics recommend.
Rotten Tomatoes Score. More reviews on Rotten Tomatoes

  • BBC

    Flourishes of 'hyper-reality' are grounded by sterling performances from Knightley (defined by a strong and elegantly poised backbone), Romola Garai as the 18-year-old Briony and, above all, James McAvoy. He exudes the essence of humanity in a truly soulful picture.... Full Review

  • Atonement is a great big and unashamedly British epic. This is the film the poms scrimp and save their pennies for, only to blow the lot on one spectacularly competent piece of naked Oscar bait. The last time we saw this movie it was called The English Patient, and the time before that might have been Chariots of Fire. And fair enough too. Atonement really is pretty special, and actually deserves some of the tsunami of hype that is following it around the globe... Full Review

  • An adaptation at least as good as the novel - complex, delicate and devastating. Gorgeous cinematography, a lilting score and near-faultless performances, under Wright’s assured direction, make this the first contender for next year’s Best Picture Oscar... Full Review

  • Complex, fragile and devastating in its impact, this spellbinding film will doubtless inspire some tears but rises above the dismissive term "tear- jerker". This is a love story for mature adults, as witnessed and brutally messed up by an immature child... Full Review

  • Atonement is exquisitely shot. I just loved its pace, the use of sound to suck you in to that doomed hot English summer day and its use again to transition from scene to scene... Full Review

  • Rarely has a book sprung so vividly to life, but also worked so enthrallingly in pure movie terms, as with “Atonement,” Brit helmer Joe Wright’s smart, dazzlingly upholstered adaptation of Ian McEwan’s celebrated 2001 novel. Period yarn, largely set in 1930s and ‘40s England, about an adolescent outburst of spite that destroys two lives and crumples a third, preserves much of the tome’s metaphysical depth and all of its emotional power. And as in Wright’s “Pride & Prejudice,” Keira Knightley -- echoed by co-thesp James McAvoy --proves every bit as magnetic as the divas of those classic mellers pic consciously references... Full Review