Film, Drama
3 out of 5 stars
5 out of 5 stars
(147user reviews)

The first hour of ‘Atonement’ is an electric experience, during which one feels that Joe Wright (‘Pride and Prejudice’), the film’s young director, and Christopher Hampton, its screenwriter, have a clever grip on the potential of Ian McEwan’s novel to inspire more than just a well-crafted adaptation and a lyrical, intelligent film in its own right. McEwan’s book is about the telling of stories, about the perception of others’ tales and about delivering a lie to a rapt, conditioned audience for reasons of self-preservation: a key character even pleads to be believed with the defence that she saw something happening, ‘With my own eyes’. What greater appeal is there to the potential ability of cinema to twist, mould and convince us?

Wright tightly harnesses these ideas in the first, and longest, of the film’s three chapters. We’re in a smart country house in the late 1930s, just a few years before the war. Cecilia (Keira Knightley) has recently come down from Cambridge; Robbie (James McAvoy), her university contemporary and son of her parents’ housekeeper is dabbling with landscape gardening; and her brother Leon (Patrick Kennedy) is coming to dinner with a friend, the arrogant industrialist Paul Marshall (Benedict Cumberbatch). The performances are enjoyable and spot-on: Cecilia’s brittle beauty; Robbie’s educated but tempered confidence; the wily camaraderie between Leon and Marshall.

There’s clearly an attraction between Robbie and Cecilia, yet his connection with the servile classes and her inherited snobbery is holding Cecilia at bay. The class divide persists when Cecilia’s sensible 13-year-old sister, Briony (a terrific turn from Saoirse Ronan) – already dabbling in writing and staging plays at home – constructs her own, deluded fiction around the goings-on between Robbie and Cecilia that see Robbie falsely branded a ‘sex maniac’ and rapist. As with the coming of war to Brideshead, the spell is broken, the Second World War begins and Briony, later as a young adult (Romola Garai) and, much later, as a dying novelist (Vanessa Redgrave) recalls the errors of her youth.

Far from ‘unfilmable’, as some have described it, McEwan’s book offers real opportunities for a filmmaker to thread the perils of storytelling into an epic narrative that bursts out of the attractive claustrophobia of a rarefied world and onto the ravaged, classless beaches of Dunkirk and the fortified streets of London as Cecilia and Briony both, separately, work as nurses during the war and try to deal with their recent past. For the country-house scenes, Wright wisely makes us complicit with Briony’s perception of events, yet such is the strength of the director’s tactics in this chapter – repeated scenes, messing with time, the sound of a typewriter doing its damage on the soundtrack – that when he loosens his approach for a more traditional telling of the narrative for the rest of the film, one can’t help but be disappointed.

Compared to these earlier episodes, the film’s later scenes are more pedestrian and Wright becomes more prone to visual swaggery: a technically impressive but artistically questionable five-minute tracking shot of the carnage at Dunkirk; the nurses marching in formation around a hospital as lights go off above them one-by-one; the rush of water through a tube station as a character drowns – all these grate as one feels that Wright, rather than tackling the pitfalls of storytelling instead succumbs to its audience-pleasing thrills.

A noble, well-made, superbly performed and photographed (by Seamus McGarvey) semi-failure then, but still one that shows Wright to be one of the more imaginative filmmakers of his generation, capable of winning over large audiences with daring endeavours.


Release details

Release date:
Friday September 7 2007
123 mins

Cast and crew

Joe Wright
Christopher Hampton
Keira Knightley
James McAvoy
Brenda Blethyn
Romola Garai
Vanessa Redgrave
Saoirse Ronan
Patrick Kennedy
Benedict Cumberbatch
Juno Temple
Harriet Walter
Michelle Duncan
Gina McKee
Daniel Mays
Nonso Anozie

Average User Rating

4.5 / 5

Rating Breakdown

  • 5 star:117
  • 4 star:7
  • 3 star:9
  • 2 star:7
  • 1 star:7
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I wrote a paper on how wonderful this movie was but I'll just sum it up here. The actors did a fantastic job. James was so believing and Sasorise had so many levels of depth to her character. I loved to hate Briony and at times I was screaming at the screen for her being so foolish. I hated that she used her excuse of being a child when it happened, I believe at age 13 you know right from wrong for the most part. It's definitely a film I will always carry in my heart. It's truly unforgettable. I also loved how they used different points of view to tell the same story but in different ways, the flash backs were smooth and easy to follow. Overall fantastic movie.


This is a gorgeous film and one I've seen a few times. Having read the book, and adored it (although a bit hard to get into at first), the film surprisingly didn't disappoint. Keira Knightley shines in it, which quite frankly surprises me as usually I find her to be quite wooden and not especially engaging. The story is exciting, devastating and gripping all at once. 

Loved the film, for it's typical authenticity of a British historical event. My only quibble of the whole film ( not the book ) is that I found it hard to believe that a black American soldier would have been at Dunkirk, a year before the yanks entered the war. Other than that, a brillaint addaptation of the book.

I was unsure about this film when I read the synopsis and then a few of the comments but I must say this is one of the best films I have seen for a long time. Not going to go in to details or analysis, Usman has already done that earlier in this list. Suffice to say that I was extremely glad I watched it.

I loved this film. I wanted to watch it right from the moment i saw it advertised. I must say it did not let me down. As a 15 year old i didn't expect to understand the concept of the film but the whole story was amamzing. I was very moved by the ending and i loved the way Joe Wright very cleverly put the film together. The film was amazing i would recomend it to anyone.

I think it captured the tone of McEwan's novel perfectly. Although I had previously read the text and therefore knew of the ending, McAvoy and Knightley's performances had me willing a happier conclusion. For me the film was visual poetry rooted in McEwan's talent for creating a fictional realist narrative.

Although I have not read the book, I have just finished watching the movie, to be exact it just ended about 3 minutes ago. Atonement is.. well, is so well written it will lead you to cry because of its creativity. I believe this is most deffinately one of the best written movies I have ever had the pleasure of watching. It's a tragic love story that yet is based on love, gives so much more. It's creative how the different views of the characters give such life to the plot. The characters are wonderful and the actors that stepped into these rolls outdid themselves. Keira Knightly has grown on me so much since her "Bend It Like Beckham" days and won me over in Pride and Prejudice, I love that she's doing movie's like this, and James.. wow.. I had always thought he would be a one hit wonder but also has won me over. This movie is great for people who really get into movies, and watch every aspect. Not typically for the people who are into Vin Dysel, and Fast and Furious movies.. if you catch my drift. All in all, I loved it and will think many more will also. - Amanda Age 16, Florida

I thought this fil was amazing and however said it was rubbish has no sense of what a good movie is

I am a straight, 43yr. old, Hispanic male who prefers historical movies. This movie fit my schedule for the day so I saw it despite the fact that friends could not recommend it. I loved it. It was shot beautifully from beginning to end. Kudos to the director of photography. The story made me squirm with discomfort not during the carnage of war scenes but rather the calamity of events in the lives of the likeable characters and made me remember passionate affairs of years gone by. I empathized with the lead and support cast and believed the story as it was being told. During the final scenes, I wept with the sniffling women who sat behind me. Congratulations to all of the brilliant artists who participated in this exquisite production.

I watched atonement today and i felt that it was one of the most amazing and beautiful movies i've ever seen until the present day, The emotions expressed by the characters are so well done and it made me wanna see it all over again. The end was so sad but also so perfect for this movie. I want to read the book now.

Absolutly amazing! I would really reccomend it definetely worth going to the cinema for.

Only those of you who have depth of soul and know what love can really do in a romantic sense will ever appreciate this film. As in life - the film carelfully exemplifies the myriad of emotional possibilities, the passionate lovers, the naive ignorant child (within many adults), the socially constrained, the confused child,the embarrassing parent and the buoyantly peverse that so often escape the law. So many profound characters in the making and yet the film draws to the main figures esquisitely. To know this story is to love the film, to feel the emotion of this film as painful as it is ; makes you restless for such depth of feeling. Add to this the score and the beautiful ambience of this era so eloquently portrayed - this film has true longevity; it is velvet emotion

I tfound this an incredibly moving film. Felt the passionate pull between the lovers, dreaded Briony's betrayal, felt unbearably sad at the final loss. Had read the book and wondered whether it would transfer but the heat of the passion between the two lovers was much more real in the film than the book (where Briony didn't understand and so the author couldn't really report on it) - making the tragedy that much more moving. I agree the Dunkirk scene was showboating - but the rest was intense, and moving. I didn't see the 'slowness' - compared to the almost unbearable drama of the first half it was slower, but only because it was focused on more complicated, painful and evolving events. (And hey - that James McEvoy is hot!)

i tthink this film is great and really interesting and i would definatly advise poeple to go and see it . I had reservations about seeing it as i thought it might be too muchabout war and im not into that but its a great love story and a great film !

As a 40 something year old bloke, with an evening on his hands while hoteling it in London, I went to see this for something to do. I had no knowledge of the book.. I thoroughly enjoyed this film, taking it as it came. I ended up having had a very enjoyable evening. You probably need to be 'grown up' and in love to really enjoy it. I am, and I did.

I dragged my wife to this as I wanted to see what all the fuss was about and boy what a superb film, great story - although clearly edited for cinema it was nevertheless well told. Thoroughly enjoyed it and will watch it again. Definitely one for the big screen as some of the cinematography is breathtaking and cameras are used extremely cleverly.

Brilliant movie!! the only person who wouldnt enjoy atonement would have to be a dim witted imbecile

I am a 40 year old heterosexual who enjoys a wide range of films, from Pretty Woman to Deathproof, Delicatessen and Leon. I watched this film on my own, in a full cinema. I managed to hold back tears 3 times. The Polish girls next to me weren't so restrained. I love it and if you have ever been in love, you should love it too. Ate too many chocolate covered raisin though and didn't really need the Ben & Jerrys. I recommend taking your 'other half' to this film. Enjoy

I disagree will all criticising it, the actors in it showed their best performance, I went to see the film with my mother and we both really enjoyed it, definately a film that appeals to a wide age audience. One that I would love to see winning many awards, truly brilliant.

I'm one who felt that the book could never succeed as a filml, primarily, I felt, because i questioned the motivation for devoting one's life to service as an 'atonement' for a wrong committed. i didn't hink that folks acted like that. BUT...the horror of the consequences of the big lie were so graphic on screen that I am convinced that this kind of atonement is possible. In essence someone gives up her life to atone for a lie. Do people really do that? I did think the acting was superior, but the passion of the love was not convincing. KK is, I'm afraid, a bit wooden, and as a virile young male, I'm afraid I wouldn't be tempted to bed the young lady.


A brilliant film !! Has there ever been a film about the commandment that says. "You should not bear false witness" then this is it. Sister against sister but how many people in their lives inhibit true love and stop others through jealously and wanting someone for themselves. Extremely enjoyable film but at the end Bryony wishes for Atonement but fiction and wishful thinking can not change fact. Best filem I have seen this year.

Having read the book, I doubted any film could honestly depict McEwan's exploration of the responsibilities in creating a work of fiction and still tell a cinematic tale. I think the brilliant use of sound, starting with the distant taps of a typewriter coming out of the opening darkness, convey this sense of the creative process. All the following sounds, the trapped bee, the dripping taps, the snapping electrics on the Underground, act as a 'leitmotif' for this, elegantly presaging the elderly Briony's moving speech at the close. This may be glossy, prestige cinema, but it's also thoughtful, elegant, and, especially in that incredible tracking shot at Dunkirk, superbly constructed cinema.

A thought provoking and classic tale. Making the ordinary folk of WW2 more real for me than before. I loved the suspence and the way the story moves about before the dramatic climax of the separation. After that I loved the twists and turns and moved with the characters to the sombre finale. I'm going again to see more. Might even read the book too.

We loved this film so much that we are going to watch it again! One of the best films I have ever seen, its really emotional and you just get lost in the film. Make sure you get your snotty hanky ready. James is gorgeous!!!! Laura is so jealous of Keira in the big orgy sex scene. A must see!!!!! Be there or be sqaure! Those who dont rate this film well obviously dont have the intelligence and emotions to deal with this film!!!!!!

I was really impressed with the directing and the acting of this film the sound of the typewriter added to it in my opinion the scenery was brilliant be nice to have more films that are of the same genre

a fantastic film, beautifully written,directed and acted and the scenery is superb!go see it ,1 for the girls and warned -take a hanky though...!

I was captivated by this beautifully made film, as was the rest of the audience in the cinema, who at the end, when the credits rolled, just sat spellbound and didn't move. I loved James McEvoy in 'Becoming Jane' , but thought him even better in this film; the emotion he is able to portray in his face is so powerful and convincing, without being over done. Haven't read the book but am certainly going to now. One not too be missed.

I want my mint tea darling, I enjoyed it very much and I dont want to go on this internet thing [take this as a plus!]

Has gone directly into my top ten favorite films of all time.Moving but never mawkish, visually stunning immaculately cast. I loved the book and the film did not let me down. Does a film have to be 'edgey' to win Oscars now? We shall see.

Wow, there are some films that make you laugh and some that make you cry,this film will tug at every emotion you have in your body.You will leave the cinema exhausted and deeply affected by masterpiece. Hopefully the film will be rewarded with many awards.

This film is still haunting me. It isn't perfect by any means, but it is lovingly and beautifully handled even if some shots are a little too self-aware. James McAvoy is heartbreaking and worthy of an Oscar; Romola Garai restrained compared to Keira Knightley who just sticks out her jaw and hisses poshly as in all her other films. As someone who's read and re-read the book I felt slightly distanced from the story because I knew the ending but I'm still thinking about certain beautiful shots. The Dunkirk scene in particular is very well done. Do go and see it. It may be flawed, but dull it is most certainly not.

How one can call this a semi-failure is beyond me, as questioning the artistic integrity of the Dunkirk carnage shot. I thought this to be a truly beautiful and engaging film. I do take issue with the casting of Kiera Knightley though, she really gets on my last nerve.

I disagree - it's far from a semi or any kind of failure and one of the best films of this kind I have seen in years. The acting by all was superb and convincing, particularly Knightly whom I'd previously thought inexperienced and immature. I was, however, a little disappointed by Vanessa Redgrave's take on Briony's 'atonement', it just didn't sit right with the younger portrayals. (And I thought the colours were exactly true and never "blah" (!?).) And no, the direction was right and well timed - just as I was beginning to over-notice the clonking threatening typewriter and wondering how much longer we would be asked to focus on Briony's set face, it switched quickly and tensely to the unfolding events. I can't think of a better way the story and the effects on the lives of those main characters could have been portrayed. The Dunkirk scene was a mere 5 minutes and worked for me, especially the tracking camera style. One of the few second world war era stories which was thought provoking as well as touching and this film did it more than justice. Go see.

I love this film! A DEFINATE MUST SEE! amazing performances from all actors! made me sob!

I caught a Sunday matinee showing of it and was swept along magnificently for over two hours. I read the book a few years ago and was flabbergasted by the twist then, so I knew what to expect during the final section of the film. But for those who haven't read the book I can tell you that, visually, the twist remains heart-wrenching. The close-up of Redgrave as she speaks is worth the entrance fee alone.

I loved this film. It is unique in every way!! Love James McAvoy

Loved it... think it shows that we can make big films in England and have all the talent to do it well.

Excellent well made entertaining film. What films should be. Wonderful acting from all cast especially James McAvoy Brenda Bleythen and Gina McKee - all quality British actors in a quality British production - well done to all concerned. Go and see it.

Atonement, the film adaptation, was absolutely stunning. I have to say it is probably the best film I have ever seen. If you look past the technical babble of critics and judge it on pure, unadulterated emotion, the film leaves you feeling bereft and lost, not from the film's inconclusiveness but from it's sheer tragedy and the beauty in it. Every actor, young and old, inexperienced and experienced, plays their part impeccably and I could not find fault with any of them. I was deeply moved and so should anyone be who sees this film and appreciates it. I urge everyone to see Atonement.

Absolutely amazing!!!! James is gorgeous and Keira is stunning. The body language between them was unfaultable! 10 out of 10

I finished filming as an extra in the blockbuster movie Atonement on August 22nd 2006. I didn't realise I'd have to wait a full 12 months and 1 day to see the end result on screen. Well was it worth the wait? The answer is yes. The movie has the meticulous detail you would expect from a director of Joe Wright's calibre. Richard Brooks (writing in the Sunday Times) said he would be amazed if the jury finds a better film than Atonement to take first place at the Venice film festival on August 29th. He said, "I cannot think of a better British movie in years. Unlike most of our home-grown efforts, it is big scale, yet intimate when it needs to be." I would agree. The story unfolds and the audience is drawn into the plot from the start. It begins in pre-war England in a large country house with James McAvoy’s character (Robbie Turner) being wrongly accused of rape and being imprisoned and thus separated from Keira Knightley. He is released from prison on condition he joins the army. This is a love story and more, with the back drop of the Second World War. Although it is not a war film as such, the scenes of the Dunkirk evacuation are some of the best of their type ever executed in cinema history. The scene that I was waiting to see is towards the end of the film. Joe Wright shot the Dunkirk scene in Redcar in one complete take, with no edits. It looks amazing, maybe being part of it made me slightly biased, but the human tableau that McAvoy's character walks through engulfs your senses and I can’t wait to see it again. My only regret is that it wasn’t longer. Apart from this, Atonement doesn’t disappoint in any department, the acting is first class and the story is engaging and I certainly didn’t guess the ending. I will definitely see it again, this time at the Regent Cinema in Redcar, where the building is one of the cornerstones of the great set. And finally did I see myself? Well possibly, the jury’s still out, until I get my hands on the DVD next year. Enjoy it. he comment you type in this box will appear on the site

I read the book and fell in love with it! The movie is nicely done, great cast! I recommend it.

Watched this film at a special preview followed by Q + A with the Director. The audience was stunned. The film tells the story even better than the book does, but pays heed to the devices used in the book. Everything was convincing - even the 'dream sequence' Dunkirk scene - which Joe Wright states was made that way because of budget constraints: if so, those constraints did him a big favour. That scene was, for me, the best piece of cinema since Peter Greenaway's epic set days. Don't miss this film.

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