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Look out for more coverage of
Atonement in our magazines

THE MOVIE: Atonement

Keira Knightley • James McAvoy • Vanessa Redgrave • Saoirse Ronan
DIRECTOR: Joe Wright

Poster artwork THE CONCEPT:
Spanning several decades – in 1935, 13-year-old fledgling writer Briony Tallis (Ronan) and her wealthy family live in their enormous mansion. Robbie Turner (McAvoy), the housekeeper's son, carries a torch for Briony’s older sister Cecilia (Knightley), but Briony has a crush on him and when she bears false witness to a crime he did not commit, her misdeed changes everyone’s life…

U.S. RELEASE: December 7 2007, Limited • Rated: R


“I hadn’t read the book. I was given the book by Ian McEwan to read after my screen test and my first audition. I just said, ‘Joe, there is no way I’m reading this until you give me the part, because I already am desperately involved with this character, and should you not give me the part it’s going to be hard enough without reading this epically beautiful novel.’ I said, ‘Give me the part and I’ll read the bloody book.’”

James McAvoy“A lot of my friends had read the book, they were quite obsessed with it, but they said you couldn’t make it into a film. So when they sent me the script I was intrigued because I had heard that it was the unfilmable novel. It was really interesting to read the script and then go to the book, because I obviously read it before we started shooting. And I can understand why people always said it was unfilmable, because it’s all about what they are thinking, which from an actor’s point-of-view is so helpful because it’s like having a blueprint, particularly for Cecelia, because I think she’s a very difficult woman and not particularly nice at the beginning, and you go to the book and you completely understand why she’s misbehaving.”

McAVOY on the amazing shot on the beach at Dunkirk which runs over five minutes:
James McAvoy“It was a logistical nightmare. We spent two days rehearsing, one day with 1,000 extras. We only had enough money for one day. It really was a big gamble. It was all or nothing. We could have an incredible shot or we could have no shot whatsoever. Joe, instead of shooting all day and getting one out of 20 shots right, said, ‘We are going to rehearse all day and when the light is right, for one hour, we’ll shoot. We shot three and a half takes and two and a half were utterly terrible. Then we did a third take, and we rushed to the monitor to have a look, and it didn’t work. The connection between the camera and the monitor had broken down. So we had two days of waiting quite anxiously until we saw the rushes and saw the shot and it worked, and we were overjoyed. And all the emotion that we tried to hold back to get the scene done right came out, and there was about 100 of us watching it, and the place became a swimming pool!”

“We watched a lot of films from that period, which was really helpful. My character was hugely based on Celia Johnson in Brief Encounter, and then In Which We Serve, which another Noel Coward, David Lean film.”

“I liked Robbie’s humanity, his respect, his empathy for those around him. His ability to be entirely working class at the same time as living in the upper class environment and not having a chip on his shoulder. He’s just about perfect, and that in itself wouldn’t be that interesting, but for the fact that we utterly crucify him. And I think that is a harrowing and beautiful experience to watch.”

Written by Judy Sloane. Back to top

Images above © Focus Features
Feature © 2007 Visual Imagination.
Not for reproduction.

Film Review, #691, January 2008 cover

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