Opening 8 Nov 2007
Spoiled 13-year-old upper class Brit Briony (Saoirse Ronan) just finished writing her first play to the proud satisfaction of her doting mother. Briony wants the play read to entertain the adults that evening, including an important guest of her older brother. Briony's older sister Cecilia (Keira Knightley) seems annoyed to learn that her brother has also invited their house-servant's son, Robbie (James McAvoy) to join them for the evening. Robbie had the privilege of studying at university and has just returned to the manor. Robbie is mooning over Cecilia and writes several variations of love notes, one of which is quite pornographic. Robbie decides to send Cecilia a love note and passes it on to Briony to take it to her. Too late Robbie realizes he mistakenly sent the sexually explicit note. Of course the curious Briony reads it. When Cecilia reads the note, she is more amused than shocked. Robbie meets Cecilia in the library and wants to explain but they instead act out a variation on the note only to be interrupted by a horrified Briony.
Later that evening some children are missing on the manor grounds and everyone searches the dark woods. Briony happens upon her teenage cousin Lola (Juno Temple) apparently being sexually assaulted. Briony concludes it must be Robbie. She tells the police, and Lola goes along with the story. The rest of the film, with the use of flashbacks, details the consequences against a backdrop of World War II.
Perhaps it is best to read the book of the same title by Ian McEwan before seeing this adaptation to truly appreciate the transition of Briony from confused child to dutiful nurse to autobiographical author (played by Vanessa Redgrave) trying to atone for her calamitous mistake. But without that background, reality and fiction seemed to blur through the war scenes, flashbacks and hospital wards so that the final, second ending was more a relief than a tragedy. (Mary Nyiri)