Atonement (film)

Atonement is a 2007 romantic war drama film directed by Joe Wright and based on Ian McEwan's 2001 novel of the same name. The film stars James McAvoy, Keira Knightley, Saoirse Ronan, Romola Garai, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Vanessa Redgrave, and chronicles a crime and its consequences over the course of six decades, beginning in the 1930s. It was produced for StudioCanal and filmed in England. Distributed in most of the world by Universal Studios, it was released in the United Kingdom and Ireland on 7 September 2007 and in North America on 7 December 2007.

Theatrical release poster
Directed byJoe Wright
Produced byTim Bevan
Eric Fellner
Paul Webster
Screenplay byChristopher Hampton
Based onAtonement
by Ian McEwan
StarringJames McAvoy
Keira Knightley
Saoirse Ronan
Romola Garai
Vanessa Redgrave
Music byDario Marianelli
CinematographySeamus McGarvey
Edited byPaul Tothill
Distributed byFocus Features (North America)
Universal Pictures (International)
Release date
  • 29 August 2007 (2007-08-29) (VIFF)
  • 7 September 2007 (2007-09-07) (United Kingdom)
  • 7 December 2007 (2007-12-07) (United States)
  • 9 January 2008 (2008-01-09) (France)
Running time
123 minutes[1]
Budget$30 million
Box office$129.3 million[4]

Atonement opened both the 2007 Vancouver International Film Festival and the 64th Venice International Film Festival, making Wright, at the age of 35, the youngest director ever to open the latter event. The film was a commercial success and earned a worldwide gross of approximately $129 million against a budget of $30 million. Critics gave the drama positive reviews, praising its acting performances, its cinematography and Dario Marianelli's score.

Atonement won an Oscar for Best Original Score at the 80th Academy Awards, and was nominated for six others, including Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress for Ronan.[5] It also garnered fourteen nominations at the 61st British Academy Film Awards, winning both Best Film and Production Design, and won the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Drama.[6]


In 1935 England, Briony Tallis is a 13-year-old from a wealthy family with a passion for writing. She is set to perform a play she has written at a 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. Robbie accidentally breaks a vase, and Cecilia strips off her outer clothing and climbs into a fountain basin to retrieve a piece. Briony misinterprets the scene as Robbie ordering her 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 and uses the explicit word "cunt". 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 fifteen-year-old visiting cousin, Lola, who calls Robbie a "sex maniac". Paul Marshall, a visiting friend of Briony's older brother and a chocolate magnate, introduces himself to the visiting cousins and appears to be attracted to Lola. Before dinner, Robbie apologises for the obscene letter; but, to his surprise, Cecilia 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. During it, Briony sees Lola apparently being raped by a man, who flees upon being discovered. Lola and Briony talk, and come to the conclusion that it was Robbie who assaulted her. Based on their testimony, and the explicit letter he wrote to Cecilia, he is arrested.

Four years later, during the Second World War, Robbie has been released from prison on condition that he join the army, and fights in the Battle of France. Separated from his unit, he makes his way on foot to Dunkirk. He thinks of how he met Cecilia, now a nurse, six months earlier. 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 lying in the investigation 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 owns a factory supplying rations to the British army, is about to be married to Lola. Briony goes to the ceremony, and as the priest asks if anyone objects to the union, she realises that it was Paul who assaulted Lola. Briony goes to visit Cecilia to apologise directly. She is surprised to find her sister with Robbie, who is 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 they ask Briony to try and correct the record and get Robbie's conviction overturned. Briony agrees, but points out that Lola will not be able to testify against her husband, and that her own testimony will probably be viewed as unreliable.

Decades later, Briony is an elderly and a successful novelist, giving an interview about her latest book, an autobiographical novel, entitled Atonement. 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.


  • James McAvoy as Robbie Turner, the son of the Tallis family housekeeper with a Cambridge education courtesy of his mother's employer. McAvoy, who had refused previous offers to work with Wright, was the director's first choice; producers met several actors for the role, including Jake Gyllenhaal,[7] but McAvoy was the only one offered the part. He fitted Wright's bid for someone who "had the acting ability to take the audience with him on his personal and physical journey". McAvoy describes Robbie as one of the most difficult characters he has ever played, "because he's very straight-ahead".[8]
  • Keira Knightley as Cecilia Tallis, the elder of the two Tallis sisters. Originally intended to play 18-year-old Briony, Knightley was the first reported to have landed one of the starring roles in Atonement, having previously worked with Wright on the cinema adaptation of Jane Austen's Pride & Prejudice (2005).[9] With the director and Knightley unable to agree over which character the actress should play, Wright finally decided on Cecilia "because she has none of that Elizabeth Bennet vibe."[9] In preparing for her role, Knightley watched films from the 1930s and 1940s, such as Brief Encounter and In Which We Serve, to study the "naturalism" of the performance that Wright wanted in Atonement.[8]
  • Saoirse Ronan as Briony Tallis, aged 13: the younger Tallis sister and an aspiring novelist. 12-year-old newcomer Ronan was not cast until casting director Jina Jay came across her following many unsuccessful auditions around Britain. McEwan called her performance "remarkable": "She gives us thought processes right on-screen, even before she speaks, and conveys so much with her eyes."[8] Ronan received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her performance.
  • Romola Garai as Briony, 18: Following Abbie Cornish's refusal, backing out due to scheduling conflicts with Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007),[10] she was obliged to adapt her performance's physicality to fit the appearance that had already been decided upon for Ronan and Redgrave. Garai spent much time with Ronan, watching footage of her to approximate the way the younger actress moved.[8]
  • Vanessa Redgrave as older Briony: Everyone's ideal to play the oldest Briony,[8] Redgrave was the first approached (although she was not cast until Ronan had been found),[11] and committed herself to the role after just one meeting with Wright. She, Ronan and Garai worked together with a voice coach to keep the character's timbre in a familiar range throughout the film.[8]
  • Brenda Blethyn as Grace Turner, Robbie's mother and the Tallis family housekeeper.
  • Juno Temple as Lola Quincey, the visiting 15-year-old cousin of the Tallis siblings.
  • Benedict Cumberbatch as Paul Marshall, Leon Tallis' visiting friend.
  • Patrick Kennedy as Leon Tallis, the eldest of the Tallis siblings.
  • Harriet Walter as Emily Tallis, the matriarch of the family. Both Emily Watson[12] and Kristin Scott Thomas[12] were approached to play the role of Emily Tallis before the role went to Walter.
  • Peter Wight as Police Inspector
  • Daniel Mays as Tommy Nettle, one of Robbie's brothers-in-arms.
  • Nonso Anozie as Frank Mace, another fellow soldier.
  • Gina McKee as Sister Drummond
  • Jérémie Renier as Luc Cornet, a fatally wounded and brain damaged French soldier whom the 18-year-old Briony comforts on his deathbed.
  • Michelle Duncan as Fiona Maguire

In addition, Oscar winning director Anthony Minghella briefly appears as the television interviewer in the final scene; Minghella died six months after the film was released, aged 54, following a cancer surgery.


The film was produced by StudioCanal and filmed throughout the summer of 2006 in Great Britain.[13]


These mainly were:

The other places across London were Great Scotland Yard and Bethnal Green Town Hall, the latter being used for a 1939 tea-house scene, as well as the church of St John's, Smith Square, Westminster for Lola's wedding. Re-enactment of the 1940 Balham station disaster took place in the former Piccadilly line station of Aldwych, closed since the 1990s.

War scenes (in the French countryside) were filmed in Coates and Gedney Drove End, Lincolnshire; Walpole St Andrew and Denver, Norfolk; and in Manea and Pymoor, Cambridgeshire.

Much of the St Thomas's hospital ward interior was filmed at Park Place, Berkshire and exterior at University College London.[8]

All the exteriors and interiors of the Tallis family home were at Stokesay Court, selected from an old Country Life edition to tie in with the period and pool fountain of the novel.[20] This mansion was built in 1889 commissioned by the glove manufacturer John Derby Allcroft. It remains an undivided family home.

The third portion of Atonement was entirely filmed at the BBC Television Centre, London. The beach with cliffs first shown on the postcard and later seen towards the end of the film was Cuckmere Haven Seven Sisters, Sussex (near Roedean School, which Cecilia was said to have attended).


The film opened the 2007 Venice International Film Festival, making Wright, at 35, the youngest director ever to be so honoured.[21] The film also opened the 2007 Vancouver International Film Festival.[22] Atonement was released in the United Kingdom and Ireland on 7 September 2007,[23] and in North America on 7 December 2007. Worldwide distribution was managed by Universal Studios, with minor releases through other divisions.[13]

Box office

The film grossed $129,266,061 worldwide.[4] The film was released in the United Kingdom and Ireland on 7 September 2007, and grossed £11,557,134. It was also given a limited release in North America on 7 December, and grossed $784,145 during its opening weekend, posting a per-cinema average of $24,504 in 32 cinemas.


Critical response

The film received positive reviews from film critics. The review site Rotten Tomatoes records that 83% of 196 critics gave the film positive reviews, with a consensus that "Atonement features strong performances, brilliant cinematography and a unique score. Featuring deft performances from James McAvoy and Keira Knightley, it's a successful adaptation of Ian McEwan's novel".[24] On other review sites, Metacritic records an average score of 85%, based on 36 reviews.[25]

In Britain, the film was listed as #3 on Empire's Top 25 Films of 2007. The Australian edition of Empire gave it a five-star review, praising Wright's direction in the second half of the film, where he demonstrates "storytelling and technical flair to match his ability with actors".[26] Time magazine's Richard Corliss named the film one of the Top 10 Movies of 2007, ranking it at #4. Corliss praised the film as "first beguiling, then devastating", and singled out Saoirse Ronan as "terrific as the confused 12-year-old."[27][28]

The American critic Roger Ebert gave it a four-star review, dubbing it "one of the year's best films, a certain best picture nominee."[29] In the film review television program, At the Movies with Ebert & Roeper, Richard Roeper gave the film "thumbs up" adding that Knightley gave "one of her best performances". As for the film, he commented that "Atonement has hints of greatness but it falls just short of Oscar contention".

Top ten lists

The film appeared on many critics' top ten lists of the best films of 2007.[30]

Rank Critic Publication
1st Kenneth Turan Los Angeles Times
1st Lou Lumenick New York Post
2nd Peter Travers Rolling Stone[31]
3rd N/A Empire
4th Ann Hornaday The Washington Post
4th Joe Morgenstern The Wall Street Journal
4th Richard Corliss Time
4th Roger Ebert Chicago Sun-Times
4th Tasha Robinson The A.V. Club
7th Nathan Rabin The A.V. Club
8th James Berardinelli ReelViews
8th Keith Phipps The A.V. Club
8th Stephen Holden The New York Times
9th Marjorie Baumgarten The Austin Chronicle
10th Michael Sragow The Baltimore Sun
10th Noel Murray The A.V. Club


The film has received numerous awards and nominations, including seven Golden Globe nominations, more than any other film nominated at the 65th Golden Globe Awards,[32][33] and winning two of the nominated Golden Globes, including Best Motion Picture Drama. The film also received 14 BAFTA nominations for the 61st British Academy Film Awards including Best Film, Best British Film and Best Director, seven Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, and the Evening Standard British Film Award for Technical Achievement in Cinematography, Production Design and Costume Design, earned by Seamus McGarvey, Sarah Greenwood and Jacqueline Durran, respectively. Atonement also ranks 442nd on Empire magazine's 2008 list of the 500 greatest movies of all time.[34]

Atonement has been named among the Top 10 Films of 2007 by the Austin Film Critics Association, the Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association, the National Board of Review, New York Film Critics Online, the Oklahoma Film Critics Circle, and the Southeastern Film Critics Association.[35][36][37][38][39][40]

Home media

Atonement was released on DVD on 4 February 2008 in region 2, and the HD DVD edition followed on 11 March 2008. The North American DVD and HD DVD/DVD combo editions (USA/Canada) were released on 18 March 2008.[41][42] The Blu-ray was released on 26 January 2010.[43]

Historical discrepancies

The film shows an Avro Lancaster bomber flying overhead in 1935, an aircraft whose first flight was not until 1941.

In the scene on the Dunkirk beach, Robbie is told that the Lancastria has been sunk, an event that actually happened two weeks after the Dunkirk evacuations.[44]

In the final scene, Briony states that the deadly flooding of Balham tube station, whilst it was being used as an overnight air-raid shelter, occurred on 15 October 1940; the flooding actually occurred before midnight, when the date was still 14 October.

During the scene in 1935 where Robbie writes and discards letters for Cecilia, he keeps playing a record of the love duet from Act 1 of La bohème, with Victoria de los Ángeles and Jussi Björling singing, which was not recorded until 1956.[45]

See also


  1. "ATONEMENT (15)". Universal Studios. British Board of Film Classification. 10 July 2007. Retrieved 11 April 2014.
  2. "Atonement (2007)". British Film Institute. Retrieved 17 July 2018.
  3. "LUMIERE : Film: Atonement". Lumiere. Retrieved 9 March 2019.
  4. "Atonement (2007)". Box Office Mojo. IMDb. Retrieved 13 September 2009.
  5. "Academy Award nominations for 'Atonement'". 23 January 2008. Archived from the original on 29 January 2008. Retrieved 24 January 2008.
  6. "BAFTA Awards for 'Atonement'". 10 February 2008. Archived from the original on 11 February 2008. Retrieved 10 February 2008.
  7. "Look who's kissing Keira". London. 31 March 2006. Retrieved 9 January 2008.
  8. "Behind-the-Scenes of 'Atonement'". Archived from the original on 29 December 2007. Retrieved 4 January 2008.
  9. "Keira Knightley & Director Clashed Over 'Atonement' Character". Archived from the original on 12 January 2008. Retrieved 4 January 2008.
  10. "'Atonement' Gears Up for Start of Filming". Archived from the original on 11 December 2007. Retrieved 9 January 2008.
  11. "A Modern Version of that Stiff Upper Lip". Archived from the original on 26 December 2007. Retrieved 5 January 2008.
  12. Bamigboye, Baz (17 March 2006). "Junior pop idols need not apply". London. Retrieved 4 January 2008.
  13. "Atonement (2007)" Archived 22 October 2011 at the Wayback Machine. IMDb. Retrieved 22 November 2011.
  14. "Atonement". The Castles and Manor Houses of Cinema's Greatest Period Films. Architectural Digest. January 2013. Retrieved 2 January 2013.
  15. "Atonement". The Castles and Manor Houses of Cinema's Greatest Period Films. Architectural Digest. January 2013. Retrieved 2 January 2013.
  16. Gritten, David (24 August 2007). "Joe Wright: a new movie master". London. Retrieved 24 August 2007.
  17. "Filming locations for 'Atonement' (2007)" Archived 15 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine. IMDb. Retrieved 22 November 2011.
  18. Hencke, David (24 May 2006). "Redcar scrubs up for starring role". London. Archived from the original on 16 August 2007. Retrieved 17 July 2007.
  19. Wloszczyna, Susan (19 December 2007). "512-minute tracking shot dazzles in 'Atonement'". USA Today. Retrieved 30 April 2011.
  20. Conway Morris, Roderick (30 August 2007). "Review: 'Atonement' and 'Se, jie' at Venice festival: Love and lust in wartime". International Herald Tribune (IHT).
  21. "Joe Wright: A New Movie Master, by David Gritten". London. 24 August 2007. Retrieved 30 October 2009.
  22. "Atonement to Launch Vancouver International Film Festival". CBC News. 12 September 2007. Archived from the original on 26 January 2008. Retrieved 30 October 2009.
  23. "Atonement". Film in Focus. Archived from the original on 24 July 2009. Retrieved 30 October 2009.
  24. "Atonement". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixter. Retrieved 18 January 2007.
  25. "Atonement Reviews, Ratings, Credits". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Archived from the original on 14 December 2007. Retrieved 15 December 2007.
  26. O'Hara, Helen (January 2008). "Atonement". (Australian edition, issue 82). p. 34. Retrieved 14 November 2009.
  27. Corliss, Richard; "The 10 Best Movies"; Time Magazine; 24 December 2007; Page 40.
  28. Corliss, Richard (9 December 2007). "Corliss, Richard; "The 10 Best Movies";". Retrieved 21 February 2011.
  29. Ebert, Roger (6 December 2007). "Atonement". Chicago Sun-Times. Archived from the original on 3 January 2008. Retrieved 28 December 2007.
  30. "Metacritic: 2007 Film Critic Top Ten Lists". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Archived from the original on 2 January 2008. Retrieved 5 January 2008.
  31. Travers, Peter. (19 December 2007). "Peter Travers' Best and Worst Movies of 2007". Retrieved 20 December 2007.
  32. "Atonement leads field at Globes". BBC News. 13 December 2007. Retrieved 1 January 2010.
  33. "Hollywood Foreign Press Association 2008 Golden Globe Awards for the Year Ended December 31, 2007". 13 December 2007. Archived from the original on 14 December 2007. Retrieved 13 December 2007.
  34. "Empire Features". Retrieved 21 February 2011.
  35. "2007 Austin Film Critics Association Awards". Retrieved 22 November 2011. Archived 23 December 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  36. "2007 Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association Awards". Archived from the original on 2 February 2011. Retrieved 21 February 2011.
  37. "2007 National Board of Review". Retrieved 22 November 2011. Archived 10 December 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  38. "2007 New York Film Critics Online Awards". Retrieved 22 November 2011. Archived 12 December 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  39. "2007 Oklahoma Film Critics Association Awards". Retrieved 22 November 2011. Archived 27 December 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  40. "2007 Southeastern Film Critics Association Awards". Retrieved 22 November 2011. Archived 19 January 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  41. "DVD Release on The New York Times". Retrieved 22 November 2011.
  42. "Universal official statement for 'Atonement' DVD". Retrieved 22 November 2011.
  43. " Atonement [Blu-ray] (2007)". Retrieved 4 April 2012.
  44. Sandys, Jon. "Atonement (2007) - Top 10 Mistakes". Retrieved 28 March 2016.
  45. Greenfield, Edward. La Boheme. In: Opera on Record, ed Blyth, Alan. Hutchinson & Co, 1979, p589.
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