Saoirse Ronan is the IT girl of movies now, and it’s hard to remember that she really blew up because of her stellar performance in Atonement. She got an Oscar nom at 13 for this role, and it makes sense. I think I saw the movie before reading the book, but both are stellar. Period pieces and Keira Knightley are like candy for me, and Atonement delivers on both fronts. That’s why I’m spotlighting it tonight, even if it isn’t the BEST movie for Valentine’s Day.
Ian McEwan’s symphonic novel of love and war, childhood and class, guilt and forgiveness provides all the satisfaction of a brilliant narrative and the provocation we have come to expect from this master of English prose.
On a hot summer day in 1935, thirteen-year-old Briony Tallis witnesses a moment’s flirtation between her older sister, Cecilia, and Robbie Turner, the son of a servant and Cecilia’s childhood friend. But Briony’ s incomplete grasp of adult motives–together with her precocious literary gifts–brings about a crime that will change all their lives. As it follows that crime’s repercussions through the chaos and carnage of World War II and into the close of the twentieth century, Atonement engages the reader on every conceivable level, with an ease and authority that mark it as a genuine masterpiece.
I love all of Ian McEwan’s work, because his books read with the intellectual prose of a classic but with a plot that actually keeps you engrossed and doesn’t overdo it with length. Atonement is a perfect example of that. It’s a 2003 book–hardly ancient, but it feels rooted in its history as well as contemporary in many ways. Plus, the characters are fascinating to follow on the page, and the screen adaptation does a great job of keeping you just as engaged without losing the beauty of McEwan’s language.
The movie stars Keira Knightley, James McAvoy, Saoirse Ronan, and was directed by Joe Wright, who also directed The 2005 Pride and Prejudice and the 2012 Anna Karenina, which are two of my favorite period pieces ever. Does he have a penchant for Keira Knightley? Probably. Do I mind? Absolutely not. This movie is haunting and mesmerizing in all the best ways and makes a great book club pick because you can read AND watch and actually enjoy both.