Atonement - Joe Wright's adaptation of Ian McEwan's brilliant novel

Just back from the press screening. Oh my word, I'm traumatised all over again. The book traumatised me for weeks, and now the film has left me a broken man once more. Why do I put myself through this kind of thing when I know what it will do to me?

I'm a huge McEwan fan, so I was in significant trepidation about this despite being positive about the trailer and about Joe Wright at the helm. My first reaction is that this is one of the most successful film adaptations of a novel I can remember. I need to read the book again now to see if that reaction stands up to closer examination. The biggest change I spotted was putting the old Briony's final reflections into the form of an interview rather than have a voice-over, but I felt it was effective enough to be worth doing. And nice to have Anthony Minghella there briefly. (I'm probably being a little over-cautious on spoiler tags here!)

Casting was brilliant. I couldn't think of anyone I would rather see in the key roles, though there would be justifiable alternatives of course. The performances were spot on: I knew McAvoy would be given the quality of his performances in other films; Keira Knightley was the best I've seen her; Saoirse Ronan, Romala Garai and Vanessa Redgrave were superb as Briony at various stages; Benedict Cumberbatch was unnervingly odious.

Wright's direction was also excellent. Nothing jumped out at me as not working. The shift in of perspective on incidents (from Briony's to Cecilia's/Robbie's) was perhaps a little too subtle the first time - it took a few moments to realise that C's clothes were dry because we were now leading up to the incident we'd just seen. But I suspect that Wright wanted to deliberately wrong-foot us on this in a bid to emulate the point of view trick that McEwan plays on us in the novel.

Cinematography (Seamus McGarvey - Charlotte's Web, World Trade Centre) was stunning, perfectly capturing the hot, endless summer days at the Tallis house and beautifully evocative in France. I loved the tracking shot that Salisbury comments on.

And Dario Marianelli's score was fabulous, cleverly picking up on (perhaps even using?) the percussion of a typewriter and increasingly becoming achingly sad. The score alone was enough to send me into delectable melancholy.

Oh, and in my view I think Salisbury is wrong to say it feels like a different film in the second half. He has been seduced into thinking this is Robbie and Cecilia's story, but first and foremost it's Briony's. It's not Wright's failures that have led him into this trap, but McEwan's craftiness.

¬© Tony Watkins, 2020
The Tony and Jane Watkins Trust oversees and supports the ministries of Tony and Jane Watkins in Christian training, education, and communication. It is a charity registered in England and Wales, no. 1062254.
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