Year Released: 2007
Directed by: Joe Wright
Starring: Keira Knightley, James McAvoy, Saoirse Ronan, Vanessa Redgrave, Romola Garai
(R, 122 min.)
"O, beware, my lord, of jealousy; / It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock / The meat it feeds on." William Shakespeare
It lurks there beyond the manicured lawns and the starkly magnificent stone walls, within the polished drawing rooms and mahogany staircases -- a passion so intense as to defy all tradition of English stoicism. And like a rare and exotic flower it struggles against the harsh winds of war, the searing storm of jealousy, and hot breath of wrongful accusation.
Okay, that may veer a bit into the purple prose department, but such a setting is apt to catapult some of us back into the heady prose of our favorite Victorian novels. But of course, Atonement is very much a twentieth century piece, launching itself on the precipice of that second Great War. And even before armed conflict does break out, there are plenty of warring factions within the splendor of the Tallis household, even if the conflicts are generally beneath the surface.
Robbie Turner (James McAvoy), the son of the family housekeeper, owes his college education to Mr. Tallis’ generosity, and thus he is in that awkward no man’s land between servant and family member. It doesn’t help matters that he is passionately in love with Cecilia Tallis (Keira Knightley) as well as the object of a fervent crush on the part of her thirteen year old sister Briony (Saoirse Ronan).
The sweltering summer day sparks a series of mishaps that are as psychologically sound as they are catastrophic. What grounds a series of events that could possibly seem contrived is the very nature of the chief observer, Briony. She is precocious and indulged in her whims, used to creating romantic dramas on paper, writing plays with herself as the principle player, as well playwright and director. But the drama she witnesses from her window Briony cannot control. She sees Cecilia strip off her dress and dive into the fountain to retrieve a broken vase under the watchful eyes of Robbie.
Then there is the further bad luck of Robbie mistakenly sending his typewritten erotic fantasies to Cecilia instead of his politely worded response to a dinner invitation, and his utterly clueless choice of Briony as messenger. Of course she takes a peek, is ostensibly mortified, though the toxic brew beneath the surface bubbles over with unacknowledged sexual jealousy. The antics in the library she happens upon will go down in history as probably the most erotic fully clothed and unconsummated sex scene committed to cinema. Even Masterpiece Theatre’s Alistair Cooke might have lifted an eyebrow, but I think there would have been a glint in his eye as well.
The evening culminates in Briony falsely accusing Robbie of the rape of her visiting cousin, and part of the brilliance of the film is how the events of the day have predisposed Briony to see this wrongful image. Thus the tragedies that follow – Robbie being herded off to prison and then to war, and Briony and Cecilia’s estrangement – are not the result of downright evil but the more common and petty human traits such as jealousy and envy.
The first part of Atonement is a hothouse of passion, a claustrophobic atmosphere of lives colliding with each other; the second half opens to wider vistas and separate existences. A wounded Robbie awaits evacuation on the beaches of Dunkirk, while both Briony and Cecilia work in London as nurses. While we have at least one intense meeting between Cecilia and Robbie before he ships out, the intensity of the earlier scenes fades in this looser structure, and the film loses some momentum. A final scene with Vanessa Redgrave as the older Briony brings an unexpected twist that you will probably love or hate, causing you to rethink the entire film a la The Sixth Sense.
Is there any such thing as true atonement? Can we ever undo the consequences of early wrongs? This film asks the questions instead of providing the answers, but never was there an inquiry filled with more vitality and ardor.
Despite their painful separation, Cecilia and Robbie never forget their love. Like the fragrant rosemary that is the symbol of remembrance and faithfulness, their love endures. In England a wreath of rosemary is put on the graves of soldiers on each Armistice Day.
You can remember their devotion when you cook up this delicious Rosemary Roast Chicken. The perfume of it cooking is almost as good as eating this succulent dish.
Rosemary Roasted Chicken
1 6-lb. chicken
4 Tbl minced garlic
4 Tbl minced rosemary or 1 1/2 Tbl dried rosemary
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 tsp cracked black pepper
1/4 pound butter, softened
Preheat the oven to 375°F.
Rinse the chicken in warm water. Mix the garlic, rosemary, salt, pepper, and butter until well combined. Smear the butter mixture under the skin of the chicken breast and legs, as well as inside the cavity. Place the chicken on a rack over a roasting pan. Tuck the wins under, and tie the legs together. Place the pan in the oven, and bake about 40 minutes per pound or until cooked through. Remove the pan from the oven, and let stand 10 minutes before carving the chicken.
Recipe Source: Olde Time Cooking