Monday, January 14, 2008


I saw the film version of Atonement on Friday night. Wow! Although reviews for the film have been mixed, I really think that's rather typical of most movie adaptations of popular novels, made all the more problematic by this book's high profile and the numerous awards it has won since its 2001 publication. Under the best of circumstances (a-list stars and a competent director, good screenplay, etc.) it's very difficult to visualize the full scope of 300-400 pages of an author's musings. Even multi-part adaptations - take, for example, "Masterpiece Theatre's" numerous interpretations of classic literary works, some of them stretching to eight and ten episodes - manage to shave details from novels that some readers will doubtless miss and deem critical to understanding a story. So given the complexity of Ian McEwan's novel, it's no surprise that some critics have failed to appreciate Joe Wright's directorial handiwork.

Atonement immediately reminded me of the works of E. M. Forster (long a favorite of mine, both novels and films), particularly in its depiction of class tensions and life on an English country estate. Indeed, the cinematography of this film reminded me of the lush Merchant\Ivory productions of several Forster novels (including Howard's End, Maurice, and A Room with a View). Keira Knightley and James McAvoy turned in wonderful performances, enhanced by an obvious chemistry between them. I was also mesmerized by the score and have already downloaded two selections from iTunes (the main theme, "Atonement"; and "Elegy for Dunkirk," which is built around a stirring Anglican hymn, "Dear Lord and Father of Mankind").

Most movies I see are fun for a couple of hours but are forgotten pretty quickly thereafter, filed away for future reference in games of Trivial Pursuit. But Atonement is one of those films that I'll remember - and doubtless purchase when it reaches DVD. The ending was a shock - but I shan't give it away with spoilers. Just go see it. (And since writing this, I've learned that the film won a Golden Globe yesterday for Best Drama.)

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