When Ian McEwan's Booker-prize nominated novel was released, there must have been an instant queue of British film producers waving options contracts at him. After all, Atonement contains all the elements for a successful British film. The country house location. The upper classes, cut glass accents, the period drama. The war! Even better. And so it came to pass, that the film of Atonement was praised by many critics and nominated for lots of awards.
But how does it play when I'm sat in front of the TV on a Friday night? Therein lies the problem. I have not read the novel but I can see what the themes are, and the film is simply unable to carry them off. Without them, it is a very slight story, in which the characters are never developed fully enough for us to care what happens to them. Yes, it looks beautiful. The script is cleverly worked and tries valiantly to reproduce the effect of the multiple viewpoints of the novel. The actors, particularly the leads, are uniformly excellent, and the director has plenty of good ideas.
The big set piece scene set at Dunkirk in 1940 has attracted plenty of attention. It is certainly a tour de force and hats off to Joe Wright for pulling it off. I do feel it greatly dominates the entire film; nothing that precedes or succeeds it has anything like the same impact. Neither am I worried by its authenticity; it is ironic that in a fictional piece which questions the reliability of the authorial voice that viewers have complained about what would or would not have happened.
Ultimately, the film fails to exert any kind of emotional pull. It is a pleasant enough way of spending a couple of hours, but will not live long in the memory.
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