I’ve been meaning to write up this one for a while- if you haven’t yet seen the movie, I’d advise reading the book first. They go so well together and both are terrific!
A 13 year old storyteller, Briony, sees her older sister Cecilia with Robbie, the housekeeper’s son, and makes assumptions that will change all of their lives forever. Weaving together the three central character’s narratives, we read what they saw, or in some cases what they think they saw. The story moves seamlessly through more than half a century, paralleling the war in France and the heightened anxiety as the soldiers retreat and the terror encroaches on England.
Beautifully shot with a thrilling score, this movie was truly a joy to watch. Fantastic performances from the whole cast, especially Keira Knightley and James McAvoy, but the real scene stealer is Soairse Ronan as young Briony. All three actresses that portray Briony are fantastic (and amazing how much they really look like the same person!), but Ronan stands out in a real breakthrough performance. I loved nearly everything about this movie when I first saw it, and the only real problem I had with it after reflecting was a small nitpick with the ending, however, I truly believe that this film deserves all the awards attention that it’s receiving. It was stunning, beautiful, and very well made.
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The war sequence is significantly shorter in the film than in the novel, but just as affective. We lose a few bombings and the scene with the gypsy is quite different (there’s no pig for one, and she appears to be more of a hallucination), however it still remains a devastating part of the film with an amazing five minute tracking shot through all the soldiers on the beach that would have been far more impressive if I hadn’t seen the incredibly moving ten minute tracking shot in last year’s Children of Men.
The ending is almost the same, but creates an interview setting for Briony to discuss her last novel of a new name. While I understand it would have been hard to do otherwise by replacing the setting they put Briony’s character in a situation where she is literally explaining the ending. This is a surefire way for me to lose interest in a film that had otherwise been fantastic- by talking down to the audience and detailing everything so that we fully understand. This is often a major flaw in film adaptations, however it’s usually done through a narrative, so in the very least they’ve come up with a more original way to do it. I didn’t mind it so much during the actual execution, but when my boyfriend pointed out how much it bothered him I thought back and realized that it wasn’t sitting well with me either. In their defense, if they had kept the original setting for the end, all of that likely would have been done in narration and it probably would have been cringe-worthy.
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The film is very true to the book and they’ve found great actors and wonderfully visual way to tell the story. I wish there had been a better way to tell the ending, I would have loved for them to go back to the house, however, they probably found the best possible way to do it without being too cheesy. All in all, I look forward to seeing this as an entry in the Best Adapted Screenplay category at the Oscars this year, amongst the many other nominations it is sure to get.