ATONEMENT : Smoke & Mirrors
James McAvoy, Keira Knightley, Saoirse Ronan, Benedict Cumberbatch, Gina McKee, Romola Garai, Juno Temple, Brenda Blethyn, Alfie Allen, Patrick Kennedy, Vanessa Redgrave / From the novel by Ian McEwan / Soundtrack Dario Marianelli / Editing Paul Tothill / Art Direction Ian Bailie / Production Design Sarah Greenwood / Cinematography Seamus McGarvey / Production Tim Bevan / Director Joe Wright
Despite the Surgeon General’s wise warnings, cigarettes are a wonderful visual tool. Film Noir must have smoked it’s collective way through enough tobacco to block out the sun, but modern cinema likes it’s products nicotine free these days.. Lauren Bacall may have looked sexy mouthing clouds of chesterfield’s finest floating into strategically placed spotlights, but you won’t catch Nicole or Cate puffing on a roll-up. The old jiggery-pokery of smoke and mirrors to enhance the beauty of the modern Dietrichs & Garbos has been replaced with CGI & madame botox. Atonement marks a comforting return to form though, bathing Keira Knightley in luxuriantly defiant monsoons of haze. And though it’s not at all difficult to make Keira look appealing on film, the loss in clarity is an apt visual metaphor. The entire story is distorted through the narrator’s eyes, from both her youthful perceptions of events, to her adult, selective recollections of the past. So the filtering of visuals through smoke, mirrors, glass, water.. add to the film’s dreamlike character, painting an ever shifting picture, dropping in and out of focus at heights of sensuality, or obscuring views where details are less than certain.
There is of course an attempt to be authentic to the time period by including these smoking scenes, as with the machine gun delivery of the speech (if Keira sounds at all unbelievable, listen to Celia Johnson in either ‘Brief Encounter’ or ‘In Which we Serve’ to convince), but above all it’s more of a stylistic devise. Keira’s long, tapering, art nouveau fingers, and angular looks lend themselves so well to such Pre-Raphaelite displays, reminiscent of the young Katherine Hepburn, and neatly slipping into Helena Bonham Carter’s Period drama shoes. I’ll not bother to go into the whole phallic argument with regards to cigarettes, as it really is a tired old simplistic observation.
‘Sometimes a cigar is indeed just a cigar’.
‘The 1935 section of the film has a fairytale quality to it. The reds are very red, there’s a magical quality to it, and a part of that is emphasising Briony’s imagination. Briony is very much a character who lives in her own head. She’s a writer, she’s constantly inventing stories and she puts all the people around her into those stories, and that’s when tragedy occurs.The 30s and 40s were the pinnacle of the stiff upper lip and that very famous British emotional repression, and it was really interesting to look at that with Cecilia. She can’t express what she’s feeling, and therefore this rage is constantly bubbling underneath her which explodes, perhaps, in the library scene [she smiles]. It had to be incredibly erotic and passionate because you have to believe that these people waited three years without seeing each other based on that moment. It was incredibly important that you get that tension between Cecilia and Robbie because it’s certainly not really spoken about, it’s about what’s not being said..’
KEIRA KNIGHTLEY BBC INTERVIEW 2007
STILLS & PRODUCTION
The New Wave preoccupation with the cigarette..