Friday, September 14, 2007

TIFF 2007: Atonement (U.K.)

Atonement (U.K.) directed by Joe Wright
Wednesday September 12, 2007

Based on the book of the same name by the British writer Ian MacEwan, the film brings to the screen the beauty and drama of the narrative with stunningly beautiful images of pre-war upper class prosperity in England and the ravages of war in England and France during WWII.

Director Joe Wright, previously known for the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice, creates a completely credible world inhabited by the aristocratic Tallis siblings: Leon (Patrick Kennedy), elder sister Cecilia (Keira Knightley) and 13 year old Briony (Saoirse Ronan) and their relationship with Robbie (James McAvoy), the housekeepers' son, who lives on the sumptuous grounds of their estate and unfortunately crosses their path one hot summer night.

Robbie, who has been assisted financially by the Tallis paterfamilias and attended Cambridge University with Cecilia, is the object of desire for the two sisters. When a first cousin, who is briefly staying with the Tallis family, is sexually assaulted on the grounds, Briony falsely accuses Robbie for a number of reasons that I won't divulge here for fear of ruining the plot.

Given the option of prison or war, Robbie ends up at Dunkirk in 1940 which involved the evacuation of British and Allied forces separated from French defences by the advance of German troops. Before he leaves for the war, Cecilia tries to rebuild her thwarted relationship with Robbie. She renounced her family after Robbie was arrested and imprisoned for the rape of Lola.

Brion struggles with the truth and eventually confesses the trueevents of that night but only after unimaginable damage has been done to both Robbie and Cecilia. Every detail convinces from the luxury of the Tallis family's privilege to wartime France and England to the hospital where a now grown Briony attempts to do penance for her sins.

The director was on hand to introduce the film complete with a charming cockney accent and wonderfully quirky hat. It was a lovely surprise - this working class lad who had captured McEwan's book so well. It was the best film by far at the festival that I have seen.

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