This period drama and Oscar hopeful delivers on multiple levels, at varying times, but meanders occasionally leaving us a bit unfocused at times. Now, I will say I do want to see it again as the theater environment I saw it in was anything but ideal, not to mention it is hard to focus when you feel like you are in an oven, but either way, back to the movie.
The movie is told from the perspective of Briony Tallis most of the time and she allows for an interesting perspective on the proceedings that happen through out this film. Briony is played by both Saoirse Ronan and Romola Garai and both do pretty good jobs, giving the edge to Ronan in this one. Ronan plays the smart rich pompous girl to a T while also nailing the curiosity and naivety of a child as well. Garai deserves credit for making the age jump feel like the same character, a bit more mature but continuing the characters curiosity on life from a different angle.
Now, just because we see the story through Briony, doesn’t mean she is the main character. Those roles would belong to Cecilia and Robbie, our lovers whom this story is about; these rolls are filled by Keira Knightly and James McAvoy respectively. They both do some excellent work and if it comes across weak at all it is usually do to the bit of melodrama that creeps in occasionally. Robbie is an educated potential doctor, which is doing gardening in the meantime. He has had his eye on Cecilia, the older sister to Briony, for a while now while as he works at their manor.
The opening hour of the film follows the events over a couple days at the Briony estate and we see how it all unfolds in a very intriguing and interesting way thanks to some excellent work by director Joe Wright. We see a few events first from Briony’s perspective and see her reactions, followed by the actual events that unfold. It is an interesting story telling device that works very well for this film.
After the events unfold for the first half the second half is what leaves us a little lost some times. Robbie ends up in the military and for about 2o minitues, the focus of the film wavers a bit as he retreats and looks for safety with a couple other soldiers. We lose the double perspective narrative, but still have time jumps and the new flow of the film takes a moment to get used too. Luckily a third of this adjustment period is spent on one single take, that is absolutely amazing, involving hundreds of people, special effects, and is one of the highlights of the film.
Briony become the focus of the film for its final act and the movie re-gathers itself as it regains its focus. Briony is seeking redemption and finds herself as a nurse in London taking care of soldiers as the return home for battle. We get to see her grow and mature as she tries to come to grips with what her past and eventually find out how she repays the story’s lovers.
After writing this review it has helped me to grow some more favor with this film then what I had originally thought, which is a very good thing, and I think that subsequent viewings will do this film well. People might take issue with a jump towards the end of the film but any awkwardness from that is easily forgotten with a superb final scene, which ends the film wonderfully.