Addendum: Movie Review || Atonement (2007)

As a lover of both film and literature, there is a certain pleasure to reading a novel and then watching the film based upon it. Many times, the end-result is disappointing but I think the screen rendition of 'Atonement' hit the nail on the head with regards to character representation, plot, pacing, and setting.

The film, released in 2007, starred historical drama heroine Keira Knightley and was a stand-out performance for Saoirse Ronan, who went on to garner an Academy Award nomination for her ability to perfectly present Briony - whose thought processes are revealed to us in the novel and so taken onscreen in gestures and flawless facial movements. It was also, in my opinion, an excellent performance by James McAvoy, whose acting talent has been somewhat underused in the role for which he is now known as Professor Charles Xavier in the 'X-Men' film reboots (although I enjoy him in those, too).

The film's nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay and award for Best Original Score were also well-deserved, particularly the latter. The score is one of my favourite parts of the film, especially in the beginning when sounds of the typewriter create emphasis for the editing, highlighting certain scenes, juxtaposing others, and keeping the pace of the film tight. With regards to the novel's theme of writing, it's a beautiful way of honouring the writing that went into both the screenplay and the novel.

The manner in which the different versions of the day are expressed was impressive and the film carried over the feeling one gets when reading the novel that the readers/viewers know much more than the players. I also really appreciated the research that went into finding settings similar to those described in the books and no artistic licence was taken to alter McEwan's vision.

Wikimedia/Hugh Mortimer

Favourite scenes of mine include the moment when Robbie arrives back at the house with the two lost twins only to be confronted with tension, suspicion, and anger, and one of Robbie's final scenes in the film where he is walking through Dunkirk, through hordes of broken and battered soldiers, to stop in front of a cinematic screening of a black and white romance film, certainly from Hollywood. The scene is really tragic because elsewhere in the world there are people making and watching films, so far away from the tragedy of the war and retreat.

While changes from the original are inevitable, the changes that occurred in no way detracted from the story that McEwan must have envisioned. There were only a few changes that made me wonder at their purpose. One was the scene when Leon, Paul Marshall, and Cecilia are sitting at the pool instead of fully-dressed in the garden. Perhaps this was meant to show how carefree they all are. Another was the fact that Briony really did see Marshall with Lola. In the novel, this is not said expressly. Briony was indeed afraid for Cecilia, as she believes she saw the pair in a violent encounter. However, the timing of Robbie's memory of Briony confessing her love to him also makes Briony's accusation of Robbie seem all the more vindictive and cruel. Perhaps the purpose of this was to make Briony's guilt all the more intense for the viewers.

I know that there are fans of the novel that did not enjoy the film and while the original book is much more delightful, watching a film is a different artistic activity and I truly enjoy seeing its adaptation, its interpretation, through different eyes.

I read in a review of the film that the standout scene in the film is the sweeping view of Dunkirk when the soldiers are awaiting the rescue boats. The scene is most certainly aimed at representing the pinnacle of life's loss and regret, but I really feel that the scene, while tragic and unforgiving, should not be representative of the film. Instead, the concluding dream vision of Robbie and Cecilia having the love and freedom they deserved should be, because it truly represents the loss of an entire generation.

Recommended links:

Book Review || Atonement by Ian McEwan
Just Read and Watched: Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller

{Image credit: Hugh Mortimer [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons}


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