Friday, 7 December 2007

Atonement, gentlemen!

I have been numbering the days to the Australian release of Atonement, Joe Wright's adaption of the extraordinary Ian McEwan novel. I love McEwan, I enjoyed the novel, and I was very impressed (despite my prejudices) with Wright's adaption of Pride and Prejudice, and with Keira Knightley as Lizzy. So after reading rave UK reviews of the new film back in September, I started counting down to Boxing Day.

But then I read A.O. Scott's review in today's New York Times. To quote it in part:
This is not a bad literary adaptation; it is too handsomely shot and Britishly acted to warrant such strong condemnation. “Atonement” is, instead, an almost classical example of how pointless, how diminishing, the transmutation of literature into film can be. The respect that Mr. Wright and Mr. Hampton show to Mr. McEwan is no doubt gratifying to him, but it is fatal to their own project.
My anticipation of the film is now taking on a different colour. Ominously, the novelist remarked that "The one thing movies don’t do particularly well is consciousness, and the book is largely about consciousness. But I think [the filmmakers] got around it pretty well." I took that one way when I first read it; now knowing Scott's reaction to the film, it's adding to my unease.

Of course, I'm still going to see it. Two hours spent watching Keira Knightley and Vanessa Redgrave can never be entirely wasted; and they say that Saoirse Ronan, the newcomer playing the young Briony, is superb. But even so I have to hope that A.O. Scott is mistaken: and that doesn't happen often.

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