Atonement is a majestic and moving novel, one of my favourites by one of my favourite authors, so I approached the movie with optimism and trepidation in equal measure.
I need not have worried; it is executed with impeccable taste, brilliantly directed, acted, soundtracked and photographed. Surely it will do some damage at the Oscars.
It’s essentially a caustic attack on the class society in England where the stiff upper lip leads to all sorts of under-the-radar cruelty.
James McAvoy (essentially a bit of a Lady Chatterley’s lover being as he is the housemaid’s son) falls for the toffee-nosed Cecilia Tallis, (Keira Knightley)and, in the process, drives her 13 year old sister into a fit of jealousy that has tragic consequences for McAvoy.
This is magnified when the young Brioney (brilliantly played by Saoirse Ronan) acts as go-between between the aforementioned James McAvoy (now certainly one of Britain’s best actors) and Knightley (who carries the part off more than adequately).
The film is in three acts. The first set in Brideshead Revisited English opulence, the second in Northern France around the D Day landings and containing a 5 minute steadicam tracking shot that takes the breathe away, the third in the suburbs of war torn London.
Each is rendered differently and observed immaculately. In the snobbery of pre-war rural England the tension can be cut with a knife and the language and mannerisms of upper class torpor are fantastically realised.
The war scenes, aside from the amazing tracking shot, are less well executed (budget restrictions methinks) but the ending is deeply satisfying.
Special applause has to be reserved for Dario Mariavrelli’s soundtrack which uses the sound of typewriter keystrokes as a hugely original percussion instrument that adds energy to the whole piece.