Film review – Atonement (2007)

Young lovers Cecilia and Robbie are torn apart on a fateful 1930s summers day when Robbie is falsely accused of rape. When he is released from jail the advent of World War II continues to deny their reunion. Atonement is the second film that Joe Wright has directed Keira Knightley in (previously in 2005s Pride & Prejudice) and as Cecilia, Knightley gives her best performance to date. She has magnificent onscreen chemistry with the talented James McAvoy (The Last King of Scotland) who plays Robbie.

Atonement may be an adaptation of Ian McEwan’s acclaimed novel but this richly cinematic film transcends the limitations of the printed word. The cinematography, editing and sound design are fully utilised to explore a compelling tale about memory, perception and the power of stories. You can feel the heat (both from the sun and the sexual tension) radiating from the screen during that pivotal summer day. An extended long shot of men stranded on the beach during the 1940 Dunkirk evacuation is not only a technical triumph but heartbreakingly says more about the despair created by war than any graphic battle scenes could. 

Originally appeared in The Big Issue, No. 293, 2007

© Thomas Caldwell, 2007