Can you remember your first crush? Seems silly to ask but just humour me a little. Can you remember the first time your heart leaped, soared and stuck like a sore lump in your throat as you whispered love about them? Those doodles and careless wishing. That person, no matter what age, would always stick in your mind. Even though now, when you think back, it probably wasn’t love at all. Imagine, then being a young girl who is experiencing all these emotions, only for the man of your affections (albeit, one considerably than you) to be desperately in love with your sister. Imagine the pain and anguish you’d feel, you’d want to do something stupid…
Well, Atonement is about that young girl doing something incredibly stupid, except there is a harsher more sinister tone to it. Starring James McAvoy, Keira Knightlye and Saoirse Ronan, Atonement is about two lovers Cecilia and Robbie (Knightley and McAvoy.) Cecilia is an upper-class socialite and Robbie is the educated servant’s son who helps out around the house. Briony (Ronan) is the brattish younger child of Cecilia who is hopelessly in love with Robbie. When she catches the pair together, she is distraught and furious. And when her cousin is attacked, Briony throws the blame at Robbie, pulling the lovers apart …
Atonement, the story is full of this hard hitting impact that takes you in a direction you never saw coming. The key components, Robbie, Cecilia and Briony, all fit together well as they navigate false allegations, war and separation. As Briony grows up, she must come to terms with what she has done and that speaks volumes here. The acting is of high calibre, being the movie that really placed McAvoy on the map. Here as Robbie, he gives a spectacularly wrought and stellar portrayal of a man torn apart by a lie. It’s actually his performance that stands out, enriched with devastation and longing. A character constantly hit by his class, McAvoy excels in bringing his turbulent life onto the big screen. It’s one of McAvoy’s best and most memorable performances.
Knightley and Ronan hold up their own too, as sisters who have played fire with Robbie’s life. And Benedict Cumberbatch makes an incredible turn as the villainous Paul Marshall; though a bit player, his creepy presence will certainly knock that crush you have on him out of you.
Joe Wright has an absolutely stunning eye sweeping cinematography and beautiful direction. In case you don’t believe me, check out his latest work on Anna Karenina and the use of the stage environment to tell the tale. Here with Atonement the similar broken narrative, absolutely captivating style and the novel way of bringing the story (funnily enough, from a novel) to life is simply breath-taking. Wright, alongside cinematographer Seamus McGarvey make an almost poetic movie with its visual wonders.
With the release of Dunkirk this year, many were thrown back to a more vivid and emotional depiction of the hardship upon the beaches. Shot in one entire long take as Robbie pounds the beige terrain, hoping to find a way home. It is a sweeping and traumatic, expertly choreographed to showcase surreal yet brutal visuals of the great war. Added to that, the glorious score by Dario Marianelli, haunts every second upon that dreaded beach.
Atonement is hard hitting, as much as a period drama can be. Instead of romanticising the era, the story is rather a bitter pill to swallow. It digs into your skin and doesn’t let go. With a brutal and crushing end, it is a different breed of film that drags you in with its beauty and completely stings with its story.
Even ten years later.