3 February 2008 | IndyMansOldAccount
1935, and 13 year-old Briony (Ronan) changes the course of several lives when she misreads the relationship between her sister Cecilia (Knightley) and housekeeper's son Robbie (McAvoy). Later, as World War II rages, she tries to atone for her mistake.
This is Briony (Saoirse Ronan), forged by her family and aspiring to be an accomplished writer and playwright and pedantic know-it-all; who uses that same enthusiasm to run riot with her advocated mind full of plethora's that seem to lie down like a silver-platter full of misconstrued actions.
Her lucid creativity and lack of self-awareness; all too common with some kids these days, as she verges on the precipice of all too well known adolescence, adding a twisted sense of her judgement, in effect creating a series of shocking revelations.
Romola Garai plays the elder counterpart of Briony gets the more difficult less pungent role, a character that lives an almost entirely introvert life. Some screen mannerisms shows this gamut, she's overshadowed by Saoirse Ronan as her 13 year-old self, who seems more aware of herself and her surroundings.
Her sister on the other hand, Cecilia (Keira Knightley), with her sharp tones are exactly posh enough to fit Cecilia; lounges by the pool smoking with Brother Leon (Patrick Kennedy) all the while keeping her distance from nonentity Robbie (James McAvoy), a scholarship boy with little to recommend him than himself. The elder cast actors barely get a look in or even a second look - near-cameos from Brenda Blethyn, and Vanessa Redgrave aside, the three are in the centre stage. McAvoy astoundingly impresses, while Knightley who finally stakes her claim in a grown-up part and does more without a pirate's rusty blade.
Fantasy refined with a pragmatist sense of underwater scenes make the stately home feel like a home, heat, tension, sexual and or otherwise, cracking from under the marble floors. All leading to an erotic sex scene audiences' will not expect, but be stunned despite the fact that both parties remain almost fully dressed. All seems too well; time seems to be against them.
1940, as World War II rages around them, we see the central three characters - Cecilia, Robbie and Briony (now played by Romola Garai) a few years later. Cecilia and Briony are working as nurses in London, Briony giving the indication of following her sisters' footsteps to atone, while Robbie is part of the ill-fated British Expeditionary Force, trying desperately to reach the boat for home at Dunkirk in the last and darkest days of Britain's war effort. Innocence of youth has faded to something chilling, a world that's covered in veils and old faded photographs with impiety and an ever-present paucity of light. The second act sees Briony turn from self-righteous to stricken in the turn of a page. We have the chance to wallow in the mess she has left, and realise the full extent of the crime for which she must atone.
Some very neat and summer-tinged French countryside through which Robbie and his comrades tramp is already war-weary, provides some beautiful and some brutal detours that make the surroundings more of a shock than welcoming. Some have and have not seen clips and small sneak peeks about what's going to make Wright's reputation. In a gob-smacking (literally) five-minute tracking shot on the beach at Dunkirk, as Robbie's exhausted troopers stagger in to find not refuge but chaos. To incessantly babble of it would not give its full constructive meaning. This is as effective a World War II beach scene matching to Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan's opening.
The quality of the production as a whole removes any indication in flaws in the narrative; which are almost immediately overshadowed by the next esteemed scene. When on some level you are left with a crescendo volleyed ending, you are left reeling and wanting more. The end plays as a shock, is there ever a happy ending?
Delicately handled, goes from pure heavenly fantasy to brutal war-time drama. Well contrasted with gorgeous cinematography, a picturesque score and unquestionable performances. 8/10.