Don’t get me wrong I am a fool for period flicks. I have watched many a Hercule Poiret film just to bask in the atmosphere of a perfect reconstruction of a bygone era, the golden light, the architecture, the furniture, women’s clothing, shoes, hats, every detail so perfect.., mmm, all so delicious that it makes me forget that many of my little grey cells die off while I’m watching a mystery filled with all the tension of watching clothes go around in the dryer.
I went to Atonement ready to be swept away by the story and James McAvoy (that adorable kid who was so sexy in The Last King of Scotland.) But what did I get? I got a comedy masquerading as a romantic tragedy set against the background of the bloodiest of all wars. It should have been a Nichols and May send up of romance and silliness set among moronic upper class twits, but no, we have to get all-serious here.
If you’ve seen Cold Comfort Farm you’re familiar with the matriarch of the family, she who has kept to her room for 40 or so years (ruling the household with an iron hand in absentia) because she was scarred by seeing something (who can say what: moldy fruit? sex? ) horrible in the woodshed.
In Atonement, the high-strung youngest daughter Briony spends a lifetime nursing her guilt over destroying her sister and her lover because of a misunderstanding. This is one of those films that would be 20 minutes long if her sister just said: “Briony, honey, that stuff you saw in the library, that was, well… hot, consexual sex . And when that little Lolita was being ravaged. Robbie was busy searching for her awful twin bothers who were hiding somewhere on the estate. Sweetheart, do something basic math, he just didn’t have the time to jump the child and find her brothers. Looking for a suspect? Look no farther than your brother’s unattractive college buddy.
You can't take any those terminally uptight Brits seriously. The whole looney Bunch: Briony, Mom, Celia, the oh, so anorexic eldest daughter of a mother who has migraines and has to lie in a darkened room pretty much all the time, (a woman who, as a child, was kept indoors in the summer by her father, because he feared the heat excited the lower orders to sexual marauding...oh how foreshadowing was that?) And talk about foreshadowing that friend of Celia’s brother has no chin, sure sign of a pervert. He can’t help but have sex with a zaftig teenager and later be trapped into marrying her. I think he owned a chocolate company, a sure sign of moral turpitude.
A movie this silly shouldn’t bring in hideous losses of the war in ghastly detail, making it a horrific experience rather than what it should have been, an episode of Wooster and Jeeves.
Only the Robbie, the son of the housekeeper is true and good. And before the unfortunate incident he’s on his way to Medical School and a bright future. Faced with a choice of jail or enlisting in the war, he joins up. We see him leading his men…. sensitive and true and beloved by regular guys. Just as weak-chinned men have dirty secrets, brave, injured heroes are sure to die of septicemia.
And speaking of Robbie, blue-eyed, so hot, so short, would he really write a note to, an upper class young lady, the girl of his dreams, that casually uses the phrase "your wet cunt”? I think not. We are asked to believe he mixes up the “I’m sorry I broke the ugly vase” note with the cunt note. And who does he give the wrong letter to, to deliver? Biony,who's mad for him and mad in the way only a very thin, self-obsessed 12 year old who writes plays can be? I don’t believe it!
What a great comedy this would have made...that is if Ian McGowan had a sense of humor or even a good ear. We Americans are suckers for the Brits. We lose our critical sense. We didn’t give this film an Oscar, whew, that was close.