Love stories. I am a sucker for them, especially the doomed ones and the unrequited ones, the searing passionate ones. Think Heathcliff and Catherine in Wuthering Heights, Count Lazlo and Katherine in The English Patient, Dr. Zhivago and Lara, Sydney Carton and Lucie in The Tale of Two Cities, the Vicomte and Madame de Tourvel in Dangerous Liaisons.
It therefore was no surprise when I found myself choking up when I saw Atonement this weekend on DVD. Ian McEwan’s classic book I had already read. And loved enough to rank among my top 10 favourites of all time. So I had approached the movie with a great amount of trepidation - I normally hate movie adaptations of books I love. But the movie was pretty much a faithful rendition of the book and it had actors who I thought were pretty brilliant – so it wasn’t at all bad. Of course it does not have that absolute ‘punch in your guts’ kind of feel that the book leaves you with. But I would recommend it very highly for anyone without the patience to read the book.
Atonement is at heart a love story between a rich society girl Cecilia Tallis and Robbie Turner the son of the household help. It is a love that is interrupted by a seemingly precocious but confused thirteen year old, the narrator of the story. Briony Tallis is Cee’s little sister who harbours dreams of writer-hood and of Robbie himself. She starts to notice the chemistry between her sister and Robbie, reads a note that he writes Cecilia but never meant to send, sees them making passionate love in the library – and then in her confused teenage mind convinces herself and the world that Robbie is guilty of a crime he never committed. It is a lie that changes their lives – sends Robbie to prison and then to war, alienates Cecilia from her family forever and condemns Briony to a lifetime of guilt. Briony writes the book as her last act of penitance, but in a heart-breaking final chapter (and the final scenes in the movie), we realize why there really can be no atonement for her.
Watch this movie or better still, read the book. It is a wrenching story, one that stayed with me for a very long time; with Cee and Robbie entering my pantheon of all-time favourite doomed love stories.