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:: Atonement

As an adaptation of Ian McEwan’s 2001 novel Atonement, Christopher Hampton’s movie interpretation had pre-conceived expectations, but comes off as a powerful film in its own right. Atonement is a tragic love story, told through the era of the Second World War.

The film begins with the stunning, slim, stand-offish and upper-class character of Cecilia Turner (Keira Knightely) lazing around at her parent’s amazing mansion on a hot summer’s day, puffing clouds of smoke into the air from a chain of cigarettes. She is having a secret love affair with Robbie (James McAvoy) who is the poor son of one of her father’s staff. He is a great friend of the family and Cecilia’s bright younger sister Briony also has a crush on the attractive boy.

As the lazy hot summer’s day plays out and the rich kids find activities to pass the day away, certain events lead to a climactic and pivotal event, which happens at a party which Cecilia’s parents are planning to throw that night.

Briony, upset after her snobby cousins won’t rehearse a play she has written for the party, stares out the window and sees Robbie and Cecilia arguing, then Cecilia taking her clothes off and jumping into the water fountain beside them, emerging almost naked in her underwear.

Suspicious of the sensual moment she has just witnessed, the scene is then re-done so the audience can see what really happened, and it is far more innocent that Briony believes. On the way to the party, Robbie has written a love letter to Cecilia, which he gives to Briony to pass on to his lover. Mistakenly he passes her a graphic pornographic note, which leads Briony to jump to the conclusion that Robbie is a crazy sex maniac. Later she witnesses Robbie and Cecilia having sex in the library and she is convinced her convictions of the boy are true.

That night Briony sees her young cousin being attacked in the dark by a male, and even though she doesn’t see who the attacker is, she tells her family and the police she is certain Robbie is the offender. The lie causes the two lovers to be torn apart, and young Briony is yet unaware of the devastating impact it will have on their lives.

We meet Robbie again four years later and find he had been sent away for a crime he did not commit and is humbly fighting the war in France. Cecilia and Robbie cross paths again, when she is training to be a nurse and treating wounded soldiers and find their bitterness for Briony has grown, but their love has not faded.

Meanwhile, struggling Robbie is forced to deal with the powerfully emotional scene at Dunkirk as he waits to go home. The war is over and as a ferris wheels turns slowly above them, thousands of soldiers are stranded on the beach, waiting to be taken home, and for him, it almost too much to bear.

Cecilia and Robbie struggle with the implications of Briony’s lie, both clearly unforgiving and angry at the now 18-year-old, but optimistic about the future that lies ahead when Robbie returns home. Briony, also training to be a nurse, has now realised the devastating effect her lie had on Robbie and Cecilia and wants to put things right, by writing a novel.

A clever and unexpected twist at the end of the film is what makes Atonement stand out from normal and run-of-the-mill love stories. Expectations are turned upside down as we find out the truth and Briony in her own way attempts to right a wrong she committed so many years ago.

Although, Atonement is quite drawn-out in its narration, and Keira Knightley comes off as a stiff pretentious character as the upper-class Cecilia, the film brings home a powerful and poignant message about forgiveness - one that will take the audience by surprise.