Plot[ edit ] In England, Briony Tallis is a year-old from a wealthy family. She has just completed writing her first play to mark her brother's homecoming and plans to stage it later that day with her visiting cousins. 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.
Cecilia is undressing and dips into the fountain pool; a moment later, she climbs out, her undergarments wet, all while Robbie watches. Cecilia had gone to the pond to fill a vase, Robbie grabbed one of the handles, and it broke. A part fell into the pond, and Cecilia jumped in to retrieve it. Robbie drafts a series of notes to Cecilia apologising for the incident. One contains an explicit expression of his sexual desire for her, including the word " cunt ": He writes another, more formal letter, and asks Briony to deliver it.
Only after she has gone does he realise he has given her the explicit letter. Briony reads the letter before giving it to Cecilia. Later, she describes it to her older visiting cousin, Lola, who calls Robbie a "sex maniac". Paul Marshall, a visiting friend of Briony's older brother's 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, and Cecilia confesses her love for him.
They are making love in the library when Briony walks in, and thinks that Cecilia is under attack. Cecilia and Robbie try to pass the incident off. At dinner, Briony finds that Lola's twin brothers have run away, and Paul calls for a search of the estate grounds. In the course of it, Briony glimpses Lola being raped by a man.
She goes to Lola, and they make statements to one another that appear to establish Robbie as the culprit. The belief is sustained during police questioning, and the earlier note is seen as corroborative evidence. Robbie's arrest and imprisonment follow. About four years later, during World War II , Robbie has been released from prison on condition that he join the army , and is fighting in the Battle of France.
Separated from his unit, he is making his way on foot to Dunkirk , all the while thinking of his meeting with Cecilia in London 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 , because she wants to be of "practical use to society". 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 her lie—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 recalls seeing Paul assault Lola. However, she remains silent. As Paul and Lola leave the church, they glance at Briony, but also say nothing. Afterwards, Briony visits Cecilia to apologise to her 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, when soldiers younger than she have died in the war.
Cecilia calms him down, and the couple ask Briony to confess and to have the legal record rectified. However, she also has to tell them that Paul has married Lola. He is now most unlikely to be punished, as Lola will be unable to testify against her husband , and Briony will be regarded as an unreliable witness. Briony is now elderly and a successful novelist, giving an interview about her latest book that will cap her career; she is now dying of vascular dementia.
She says that this autobiographical novel, entitled Atonement, has been very difficult to write, because she did not know how to approach what she had done to Robbie and Cecilia.
She has worked on it from the very beginning of her career. 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 drowned 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 living on in a house by the sea.
Cast[ edit ] 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 ,  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". McEwan called her performance "remarkable": Romola Garai as Briony Tallis, age The Golden Age ,  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. Everyone's ideal to play the oldest Briony,  Redgrave was the first approached although she was not cast until Ronan had been found ,  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. Patrick Kennedy as Leon Tallis, the eldest of the Tallis siblings. Juno Temple as Lola Quincey, the visiting year-old cousin of the Tallis siblings. Daniel Mays as Tommy Nettle, one of Robbie's brothers-in-arms.
Nonso Anozie as Frank Mace, another fellow soldier. Production[ edit ] The film was produced by Working Title Films and filmed throughout the summer of in Great Britain. The seafront in Redcar. Streatham Hill , London for neighbouring Balham , Cecilia's new home after breaking with her family. Re-enactment of the Balham station disaster took place in the former Piccadilly line station of Aldwych , closed since the s.
It remains an undivided family home. 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 to Roedean School , which Cecilia was said to have attended.
Release[ edit ] The film opened the Venice International Film Festival , making Wright, at 35, the youngest director ever to be so honoured. Worldwide distribution was managed by Universal Studios , with minor releases through other divisions. 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".
Corliss praised the film as "first beguiling, then devastating", and singled out Saoirse Ronan as "terrific as the confused year-old. As for the film, he commented that "Atonement has hints of greatness but it falls just short of Oscar contention".