Atonement (2007 film)  

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Atonement is a 2007 film adaptation of Ian McEwan's critically acclaimed novel of the same name, directed by Joe Wright, and based on a screenplay by Christopher Hampton. It was produced by Working Title Films and filmed throughout the summer of 2006 in Great Britain and France, starring James McAvoy and Keira Knightley.


In 1935 England, 13-year-old Briony Tallis, the youngest daughter of the wealthy Tallis family, is set to perform a play she has written for an upcoming family gathering. Looking out of her bedroom window, she spies on her older sister, Cecilia, and the housekeeper's son, Robbie Turner, on whom Briony has a crush. During their argument near the fountain, Robbie accidentally breaks a vase and yells at Cecilia to stay where she is – so as to avoid cutting her feet on the broken pieces on the ground. Still angered, Cecilia then strips off her outer clothing, stares at him and climbs into the basin to retrieve one of the pieces. Briony misinterprets the scene as Robbie ordering her sister to undress and get in the water.

Robbie drafts a note to Cecilia to apologise for the incident. In one draft, designed only as a private joke, he confesses his sexual attraction to her in explicit terms. He then writes a more formal letter and gives it to Briony to deliver. Only afterwards does he realise he has given her the wrong letter. Briony reads the letter before giving it to Cecilia. Later, she describes it to her 15-year-old visiting cousin, Lola, who calls Robbie a "sex maniac".

Paul Marshall, a visiting friend of Briony's older brother, introduces himself to the visiting cousins and appears to be attracted to Lola. Before dinner, Robbie apologises to Cecilia for the obscene letter but, to his surprise, she confesses her secret love for him. They proceed to make passionate love in the library. Briony walks in on them and thinks that Robbie is raping Cecilia.

At dinner, Lola's twin brothers go missing and a search is organised. Outside in the dark, Briony sees Lola apparently being raped by a man, who flees upon being discovered. The two girls talk and Briony becomes convinced that it was Robbie again. A confused Lola does not dissent. Robbie finds the twins and returns with them. On the basis of Lola and Briony's testimony, and the explicit letter Robbie wrote to Cecilia, he is arrested for the rape.

Four years later, during the Second World War, Robbie has been released from prison on the condition that he joins the army and fights in the Battle of France. Separated from his unit, he makes his way on foot to Dunkirk. He thinks back to six months earlier when he met Cecilia, now a nurse. Briony, now 18, has chosen to join Cecilia's old nursing unit at St Thomas' Hospital in London rather than go to the University of Cambridge. She writes to her sister, but Cecilia has not forgiven her for her part in the investigation and conviction years before. Robbie, who is falling gravely ill from an infected wound, finally arrives at the beaches of Dunkirk, where he waits to be evacuated.

Later, Briony, who now regrets implicating Robbie, learns from a newsreel that Paul Marshall, who now owns a factory supplying rations to the British army, is about to marry Lola. Briony goes to the ceremony and she realises that it was Paul who assaulted Lola. Briony goes to visit Cecilia to apologise directly, and suggests correcting her testimony to which Cecilia says she would be an "unreliable witness". Briony is surprised to find Robbie there living with her sister, while in London on leave. Briony apologises for her deceit, but Robbie is enraged that she has still not accepted responsibility for her actions. Cecilia calms him down and then Robbie instructs Briony how to correct the record and get Robbie's conviction overturned. Briony agrees. Cecilia adds that Briony include what she remembers of Danny Hardman, but Briony points out that Paul Marshall was the rapist and Cecilia adds he has just married Lola and now Lola will not be able to testify against her husband.

Decades later, Briony is an elderly and successful novelist, giving an interview about her latest and last book, an autobiographical novel titled Atonement, as she is dying from vascular dementia. She confesses that the scene in the book describing her visit and apology to Cecilia and Robbie was entirely imaginary. Cecilia and Robbie were never reunited: Robbie died of septicaemia at Dunkirk on the morning of the day he was to be evacuated and Cecilia died months later in the Balham tube station bombing during the Blitz. Briony hopes to give the two, in fiction, the happiness that she robbed them of in real life. The last scene shows an imagined, happily reunited Cecilia and Robbie staying in the house by the sea which they had intended to visit once they were reunited.

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