The end of the orgy of Washington’s Birthday weekend cinema was Atonement, seen, as usual, at the Spectrum Theatre in Albany. I’ve seen the previews. YOU’VE probably seen the previews. If you did, you pretty well know how the first third of the movie turns out, with Briony Tallis, aged 13 (Oscar nominated (?!) Saoirse Ronan) does something that keeps Robbie Turner (James McAvoy) away from Briony’s sister Cecilia (Keira Knightley). Robbie goes to war, Briony (now played by Romola Garai) becomes a nurse. And at the end, Briony (Vanessa Redgrave) tells the whole story, and everyone lives happily ever after. Well, sort of.
I can’t tell you why, but much of this storytelling, after the twee British opening, save for one typed word (recently in the news) that we get to see more than once, complete with dramatic music, was very much at arm’s length. There was enough storyline substance that one should really care about the losses that Cecelia and especially Robbie went through. And in spite of the horrors of war, which was sufficiently gritty and grimy – an audible audience gasp at the treatment of animals, interestingly – I was largely uninvolved.
Finally, my wife, who liked it more than I, hit on the reason: it’s stagy. She could imagine our local Equity theater company doing an abridged version of it in a couple years. Lots of the post-English manor stuff FELT as though it were on a soundstage. It lacked…warmth.
If you WERE involved in the film, you will find the ending either heartbreaking or a very big cheat, not a real atonement at all. Since I wasn’t, it didn’t matter so much. This does explain why people initially praised this film to the hilt, then upon sober reflection seemed to have decided that it’s not so hot. Also, this film featured a lot of cigarette smoking to no particular end, save to say, “it’s the 1930s and 1940s and lots of people smoked.” Tobacco may have been in the novel, but in the film, it felt like an affectation.
I did enjoy Brenda Blethyn in the small role as Robbie’s mother, Grace. On the whole, though, eh.