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Atonement

Year: 2007
Production Co: Working Title Films
Director: Joe Wright
Producer: Tim Bevan
Writer: Ian McEwan
Cast: Keira Knightley, James McAvoy, Saoirse Ronan
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A lushly detailed polemic about the power of storytelling and the nature of regret, this Oscar bait (it failed) is like a Romeo and Juliet tale in its theme of the consequences of circumstance.

On a rambling country estate prior to World War II, the estate's beautiful daughter Cecilia (Knightley) is in love with Robbie (McAvoy), the son of one of the estate staff. The affair is obliquely observed through the immature and precocious eyes of Cecilia's younger sister Briony (Ronan), a fledgling storyteller.

When the sleazy friend of Cecilia's brother takes a liking to the young, flame haired girl the family has taken in with her twin brothers, the unthinkable happens during a search for the boys after they run away. Briony sees the young girl being raped by a man we don't think she's seen properly.

The boys found and the girl traumatised, Briony promptly accuses Robbie, who's taken off to jail. The story jumps forward to the war years, when Cecilia is a London nurse and Robbie an infantryman crossing France to try to make the escape at Dunkirk, having agreed to join the army to get out of jail. Their affair was cut cruelly short and their letters and rare meetings are stilted and heartsick, a responsibility Briony – a nurse in training – now bears.

We skip forward again to the elderly Briony as a successful author, telling a TV talk show host that the story of Robbie and Cecilia is the last one she'll tell. She's not only dying, she has to ease her conscience of a terrible truth. We learn that most of what we've seen is a fiction Briony's invented to salve her regrets, and she wants to come clean with the truth of the terrible fates that really awaited Cecilia and Robbie.

It's a sad, well-constructed story, and the period detail is lovely and genuine, not something that would have come from an American director, whose idea of England would have been pubs, bowler hats and everybody calling everyone else 'guv'nor'.

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