Movie review: Atonement (2007)

Atonement is an exceptionally well-made movie and exceedingly sad story. This British film starts on a country estate in 1935. Briony is an inspiring writer with the imagination and ignorant naïveté of a thirteen year old. Her elder sister—elder by many years—was on the verge of a romantic relationship with the son of the housekeeper. Robbie had been put through school by the girls’ father and was planning on continuing to become a doctor.

But that changed one evening with evidence that Briony gave to police. In the blink of an eye, his future was destroyed, the dreams with her sister wiped out, and families torn apart.

At dinner it was discovered that visiting twin relatives left a note before they disappeared. The members of the dinner—the main family, a brother’s friend, visiting relations, and Robbie—went off in the night in search of them. During the search, Briony stumbles across someone attempting to rape her cousin Lola.

Briony was convinced it was Robbie, based on an impassioned note that Robbie had written to her sister and her catching them having sex in the library before dinner. Robbie was a sexual pervert. He must have attacked Lola.

Only he didn’t.

But to prison he went and then to the army to fight in France. Ultimately he died, never making it back to Cecila, who was waiting for him all those years to restart their lives together. Cecila herself a nurse in London was killed a few months later seeking refuge in a subway during a bombing blitz.

Briony became a professional writer, carrying with her the lifelong shame of providing false testimony, ruining the lives of so many, and losing her own family in the process. Her last book was Atonement, a recounting of the story with changes to the ending that brought Cecilia and Robbie together to enjoy the happiness they deserved instead of their separate deaths.

Atonement is a hard story to watch…and a reminder that something so simple—an erroneous eyewitness account—could have such dire consequences.

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