Beautiful Keira K. (domino) lives in a fancy house with her writer kid-sister Briony (globe-nom Saoirse Ronan, appearing in the next Peter Jackson movie) and mom Harriet Walter (from Katy’s Pride & Prejudice, not Wright’s) and older brother (?) Patrick Kennedy from Bleak House. College hottie James McAvoy lives in a little house on their property with mom Brenda Blethyn (Wright’s P&P, Little Voice). The two are in love but (gasp) from different social classes. Will they defy society and marry anyway? Of course.
Wait, no. They’ve long been infatuated with each other, and during the summer when they are completely exploding for each other, a visitor to the estate rapes another visitor, and young peeping Briony tells the cops it was McAvoy, leading to his arrest and getting sent to war to die instead of going back to college and marrying his true love, who also went to war and died, but as a nurse. Briony also becomes a nurse (now played by spooky Romola Garai, Wilbur’s love interest in “Amazing Grace”) then an author. Fifty years later (now Vanessa Redgrave of “Cradle Will Rock” and “The Devils”) she’s on a TV interview show explaining that her new book is an attempt at atonement, the story of the long life the two lovers could have had together if not for her young meddling.
I loved the movie, beautiful and sad. I might just think it’s pretty good if I see it a second time, since my expectations were pretty low before the first time (period literary adaptation starring McAvoy, who was not good at all in Last King of Scotland), but this time I was enthralled. Sound design / music used typewriter key effects as percussion, my favorite part.
Guy from Slate says the epic single-shot at the beach is unnecessary and showoffy. Robbie on Reverse Shot calls it “tonally awkward” and says: “Wright’s grandstanding in this sequence bespeaks of a decidedly disjointed approach, as well as disappoints after his gloriously measured 2005 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, which smartly employed the long take as a coherent, unifying device.” Elsewhere I’d read that the shot is there to show off (even Wright admits he was showing off) the enormity of war, to take it beyond our doomed male protagonist, open up the world of the film beyond the intensely personal closed-off world of the first half. Some part of that latter explanation clicked for me, because towards the end of the shot I’d decided that McAvoy wouldn’t make it out alive. Tonally consistent or not, the shot is terrific on its own.