Whislt there, I made a beeline for just one film I was looking forward to in the past few weeks. The one thing I appreciate about the UGC site at Edinburgh is that although it is a multiplex, each screen is as commodious as the good 'ol fashioned large single screen cinemas of old. Ahhhhh, how I miss them.
The first word that escaped from my lips after imbibing Director Joe Wright's Pride and Prejudice in 2005 was "Bravo!", a project I felt was always in danger of being eclipsed by the superb BBC adaptation in 1995. But in Ian McEwan's Atonement, Wright has achieved the impossible again but also exceeding beyond expectations. Let me categorically state that this is the best British film of 2007. Nay, it is the best film of 2007.
Ian McEwan is a writer who is infatuated with words like "clarity" and "precision" and isn't shy in using such words and employing its meanings. When reading his books, I feel a conscious awareness on his part that every sentence has been carefully constructed to create a whole larger than the sum of its parts, much like a painter has an expert command of a brush. And here is it's visual equivalent to compliment a masterful work.
The film opens in an idyllic Merchant Ivory-esque England of 1935, where Robbie Turner (played by everybody's current favourite Scottish actor James McAvoy), from the wrong side of the social tracks to his posh totty amour of Cecillia Tallis (Keira Knightley in superb form) becomes falsely accused of rape due to a potent mixture of an unfortunate set of circumstances and the embroidered imaginations of the naive and cosetted adolescent younger sister of Cecilia, Briony Tallis (Saoirse Ronan in a towering performance that exceeds her petite frame, and the elder Romola Garai, in an understated and more difficult role). The rest of the film examines the rippling effect of the curtailment of life long happiness from that one fateful devastating day on the lives of its protagonists from multiple perspectives stretching from WWII to the present day.
It's one of those rare films where everything falls beautifully into place. Joe Wright clearly understands the vocabulary of film. The direction is measured and well-paced, the cinematography aesthetically seducing, the actors well cast and the acting masterly.
Three things in addition stand out. First, that arresting green dress worn by Keira Knightley is a character in itself. Secondly, the astonishing jaw-dropping continuous tracking shot of the retreating British Expeditionary Forces on the beaches of Dunkirk is simply the scene of the year. I just couldn't help scrutinising the background trying to spot someome or something making a major boo-boo as the shot went on for something like 5 continuous minutes.
And finally, the score. In particular the clickety-clack of the typewriter merging imperceptibly with the piano work, where the tinkling of the ivories imbued the film with a sense of inevitable dread, even though it was a bit overdone at times. Although cliched, the poignant use of Debussy's Clair de Lune at the one juncture or La Boheme's "O soave fanciulla, o dolce viso", where the interchanging male and female voices voiced the thoughts of Robbie and Cecillia, was just oh-so-perfect.
The longing glances, the unspoken passions, the wells of hurt and the depths of shame you would expect from such a book are all there to be savoured like fine wine on film. Atonement manages to balance the difficult task of a happy and sad ending which suits my temperament fine.
If this film does not get a nomination for best picture at the Oscars, then Hollywood can go forth and multiply.
10 out of 10.