Every year there are always a sprinkling of romantic period dramas that come to theaters. 2007 saw the release of films like “Becoming Jane”, and “Love in the Time of Cholera”, and most recently “Atonement.” With a total of seven chances at an award, this film has the most Golden Globe nominations this year. After the unfortunately bad critical reception to the first two films mentioned, it would have been natural to assume that “Atonement” would see the same fate. Luckily, the film is an absolute gem.
“Atonement” centers around the love story between the two doomed characters Robbie Turner (James McAvoy) and Cecelia Tallis (Keira Knightley). Their star-crossed relationship is torn apart by the Cecelia’s little sister, the confused yet excitable Briony (newcomer Saorsie Ronan). Briony witnesses their love blossom, but through her bewildered and curious mind and a series of horrible mistakes, she accidentally breaks them apart. The story could have come off as fairly confusing but in the hands of the screenwriter Christopher Hampton (working from Ian McEwan’s novel) it becomes a strong and interesting story that never lets its audience lose focus by intertwining stories and creating amazing surprises.
Joe Wright’s previous film “Pride and Prejudice” was never really that exciting or interesting for that matter, and it’s quite refreshing to see a director adapt a piece of historical fiction with such complexity and grace. The most memorable element of the film is the casting of Saorsie Ronan, in a star-making role. It is great to see such intense talent from such a young actress. She brings a hint of innocence to make a very grown-up film. Interestingly enough, she added a sense of maturity to what could have just felt like a movie with a lot of good sex scenes and no substance.
Keira Knightley and James McAvoy are also both very well cast in their roles, especially Knightley, who reminds us that she can actually act and not just jump in front of a green screen with a bunch of men in pirate costumes. McAvoy was terrific in last year’s “Last King of Scotland” and is blooming into a really great actor with a lot of potential for greater character films. Another standout performance comes from the acting tour-de-force that is Vanessa Redgrave. Even though she only spends less than seven minutes on the screen, she is extremely affecting and along with Ronan (they actually play the same character) she is very memorable and heartbreaking.
“Atonement” was surprisingly effective in its genre and had all of the perfect elements of a great period piece and a great film in general. The film deserves its nominations, especially for its young star who will hopefully return in many films in the future with equally spectacular performances.