Monday, September 10, 2007


I went to see Atonement on Sunday. Superb.

It's so refreshing to see a British film be so ambitious. Our film makers clearly have the capacity for ambitious work, think of Memento, Batman Begins, American Beauty or the Road to Perdition. While these films are directed by Britons and plenty of other films make plenty of use of British talent they are not 'British' in that they do not engage with the British experience and British cultural influences. There are other great British films but few real stars and they are too rare and too reliant upon easy niches like the rom-com, the plucky lad on the make and children's films. There's nothing wrong with the niches but ambitious, big-story, films have a particular function.

Like I've said before I do think there is a particular function to a strong national cinema. I think it would do wonders for our sense of ourselves as a nation. If we think back to the sense of nation that we've lost I don't think its an accident we would still return disproportionately to the era of the Bridge on the River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia, Zulu and the other films around the 1960s boom. Those films were important because they had the scale in which Britain's idea of itself could really be expressed with depth rather than superficially. If Atonement isn't a lone blip then a new British cinema could do the same.

The direction is superb. The score really drives through the action and the visuals range between touching and stunning. The scenes of Dunkirk are very memorable but I actually found some of the period scenes of England just as arresting. Every performance was solid and some were spectacular. Keira Knightley has really come into her own. Every actor playing the central character Briony did their bit to build a very well-rounded character. James McEvoy is clearly an emerging star.

It managed to do a horrors of war story without drifting into suffering porn. It managed the worthy feat of conveying in a story the tragedy of lives unlived. It asked questions about the 'what ifs' of life and explored emotional themes of regret with admirable refinement.

The real question over this film's significance isn't its quality but whether or not it forms the start of something new. Will British cinema remain Harry Potter, 'charming' romantic comedies and unemployed Northerners or will we see the growth of a genuine, ambitious mainstream national cinema again? If that happened it would be glorious.

1 comment:

Mountjoy said...

Yes, I saw Atonement too and thought it was brilliant ... looking forward to reading the book.

I hope the film wins some Oscars, as Knightly, McAvoy and the 13-year-old Bryony played their roles beautifully. I have to say, too, that I was amazed by the short but genius performance of Vanessa Redgrave.

Not often I am wowed by a film but this was a masterpiece.