Monday, 17 May 2010


“A man calumniated is doubly injured - first by him who utters the calumny, and then by him who believes it.” – Herodotus

We watched a couple of films at the weekend, and as I want to review both in detail, I will save one for next week, beginning with the first this week. It was the Ian Wright 2007 film “Atonement”, starring Keira Knightley and James McAvoy (with a special guest star appearance by the great Vanessa Redgrave). This is a UK/French co-production and is made with the usual care the British take when they make period films. It is set around 1935-1945 and the recreation of the pre-war and war years atmosphere is exquisite with tremendous attention to detail.

The Tallis family is a British aristocratic family that has the typical lifestyle and estates that go with the blue blood. The first part of the film occurs in their idyllic country estate in pre-war Britain. Briony Tallis is the precocious 13-year old daughter who wants to become a writer and has the imagination to go with it. She sees her older sister Cecilia (Knightley) and Robbie Turner (McAvoy) at the fountain in front of the family stately home and she misinterprets what is happening. Robbie is the son of a family servant toward whom the family has always been kind. They paid for his education and now he plans on going to medical school. Briony is given a wrong note by Robbie to take to Cecilia and Briony reads it. She concludes that Robbie is a pervert, and in her eyes (obscured by jealousy as she has a serious case of puppy love for Robbie) he has done the ultimate wrong. When her cousin Lola is raped, she purposefully lies, and tells the police that it was Robbie she saw committing the deed.

The second part of the film follows Robbie to war in France and some poignant images on the beach of Dunkirk are interwoven with the now young adult Briony and Cecilia (both nurses) who are attempting to breach the rift that has developed between them. Faithful and loving Cecilia is waiting for Robbie to return from the war so they can marry. The third part of the film concerns an aged Briony (Redgrave), who has indeed become a successful novelist. She explains her last book, which is autobiographical and in which she tries to atone for the wrongs she committed as a young girl…

The film is based on the novel “Atonement” by Ian McEwan, which I have not read. This novel of his received the WH Smith Literary Award (2002), National Book Critics’ Circle Fiction Award (2003), Los Angeles Times Prize for Fiction (2003), and the Santiago Prize for the European Novel (2004). McEwan’s fiction has earned him worldwide critical acclaim. He won the Somerset Maugham Award in 1976 for his first collection of short stories “First Love, Last Rites”; the Whitbread Novel Award (1987) and the Prix Fémina Etranger (1993) for “The Child in Time”; and Germany’s Shakespeare Prize in 1999. He has been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize for Fiction numerous times, winning the award for “Amsterdam” in 1998.

Even without reading the novel, I think I am safe to say that the author would have been pleased with the result. The acting was surprisingly good (especially with some of the youngsters – Saoirse Ronan as theyoung Briony was excellent), the cinematography and direction exceptional and the music by Dario Marianelli, quite impressive (with typewriter obbligato, a nice touch). Once again, although this film may be described as “chick flick”, I find that it of enough depth and interest to make it appealing even to mere males. I certainly enjoyed it and it was able to maintain my interest throughout. The movie has lots of good things going for it and deserved more than the $6.99 I paid for a DVD of it!

I would recommend this film to anyone who has an interest in period romantic drama, people interested in the psychology of children, those who are involved in second world war history (especially the UK/French side of it) and all who wish to see an intelligent, adult, engaging drama.


  1. I read the book and was so impressed by it. I'll definitely give this movie a look, too.

    That's a great price on a DVD - about what we pay now for a matinee movie in a theatre.

  2. The film is dark, but then Ian McEwan's novel was too. By this I mean that all humans are flawed, but the characters in this film are more than flawed. Their lives become tragedies, some not of their own making of course eg WW2. But some of the excruciating pain and loss could well have been avoided.

    I have read Atonement, Saturday and Amsterdam but none was a painful as On Chesil Beach. McEwan is a very fine writer, but I think he must mix with dark friends and colleagues.

  3. I loved this movie and your blog, as well as Hels' comment made me want to go and find some books by Ian McEwan to read now! Thanks!