The rest of the world got to see Atonement months ago, but its official release in Australia was yesterday, Boxing Day. The Windsor Cinema – just metres from my house – had sneak previews last weekend, and so I got to see it a few days before most of Australia.

Of course, the film didn’t live up to my experience of the novel – but I was still impressed. (There was no chance of it being an equivalent experience, because for me the strength of Ian McEwan’s writing is his description of thought processes and emotions – something that can only be represented externally in a film.)

  • The film has the novel’s elegance and intelligence.
  • The actor playing the young Briony is perfect. She has a slightly haughty face, yet still likeable; she does precociousness so well.
  • Keira Knightley was good as Cecilia but not brilliant. She didn’t have the subtlety I was expecting, the depth behind her words. I often felt like she was talking too quickly. But this might be the effect of the book moving so slowly, giving us each character’s thoughts around each line they deliver.
  • The scenes were often excellent, especially the tired troops on the dirty beach at Dunkirk in the midst of the shambolic retreat. The ruined holiday town was perfectly evoked.
  • Leon, Cee’s brother, wasn’t good natured enough. The novel’s so clear on his jollyness and generosity.
  • I was worried that the war scenes would be extended and become the focus (when they were my least favourite part of the book) – but they weren’t; they were actually shortened.

The ending

The most significant change was the ending, but I thought it was a good change.  Briony actually publishes her version of Atonement, the one with the happy ending, whereas in McEwan’s novel she can’t publish while the Marshalls live for fear of litigation.

Briony’s appearence as an aged woman on the talkshow manages to encapsulate so much sadness, time and wisdom. It’s a compressed version of the epilogue that is nearly as profound as the original. I thought Vanessa Redgrave’s performance as the old Briony was brilliant.