It was adapted into a 2007 film of the same name, directed by Joe Wright and based on a screenplay by Christopher Hampton. It was produced by Working Title Films and filmed throughout the summer of 2006 in England and France, starring James McAvoy and Keira Knightley. Distributed worldwide by Universal Studios, with minor releases through other divisions, it was released in the United Kingdom and Ireland on September 7, 2007, and in North America on December 7, 2007.
Atonement opened the 64th Venice International Film Festival, making Wright, at the age of thirty-five, the youngest director ever to open the event. The film also opened the 2007 Vancouver International Film Festival.
The film won an Oscar for the Best Original Score at the 80th Academy Awards, and was nominated for six others, including Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress (Saoirse Ronan). At the 61st British Academy Film Awards, it won the Best Film of the Year and the Production Design award.
As for the plot, it's relatively simple. Briony Tallis, a young writer thinks her older sister Cecilia is being sexually harassed by her childhood friend Robbie Turner, also the son of her family's housekeeper. The two are in fact considering a consensual relationship. Things get worse through no fault of the couple's.
- Arson, Murder and Jaywalking: When Briony is slashing nettles, she attributes to Lola the sins of Pride, Gluttony, Avarice and unco-operativeness.
- The Atoner: Briony. But only in her book does she make explicit atonement. It's left more ambiguous in real life, where such clean, neat endings are not always found.
- Boxed Crook: Robbie joins the army rather than stay in prison.
- Brother-Sister Incest: The actor playing Leon, Cecilia and Briony's brother, believed that Leon and Cecilia's relationship had elements of this; director Wright commented that he wasn't sure he agreed with him on that, and speculated it may have been because so many of Ian McEwan's other novels have incest in them. Nonetheless there are a few moments in the film (and another in a deleted scene) that hint at this idea.
- Cannot Spit It Out: A lot of the drama would probably have been sorted out if Robbie and Cecilia just told her they were in love.
- Country Matters: The word is actually a plot point in both the book and the film.
- Creepy Child: Briony.
- Crucified Hero Shot: Cecilia's body floating in the flooded underground.
- Decoy Protagonist: One would be forgiven to think that Celia and Robbie are the main characters of the film (especially from the promotional materials), but really it's Briony.
- Died Happily Ever After: Cecilia and Robby: it's hinted at in the end of the movie, but never stated in the novel
- Dies Wide Open: Nettle doesn't close Robbie's empty eyes.
- Distant Finale: A depressing one indeed.
- The Ending Changes Everything: In the book, Briony openly states that there was no way she could end the story with the lovers dead, so she put in a happy ending. She furthermore tells the reader not to wonder what really happened. The movie makes it clear that Robbie dies of septicemia and Cecilia is killed in a bombing.)
- Florence Nightingale Effect: While working as a nurse during the war, Briony tends to a French soldier wounded in the head. He mistakes her for an English girl he met in his childhood, but Briony plays along because she knows he's suffering. When he asks if she loves him, Briony says that she does (both the book and the movie makes it clear that Briony truly did, even if it was just for a few seconds). The soldier dies a minute later.
- Foot Focus: In the film, Cecilia and Robbie's love scene in the library includes a closeup of her slipping her foot out of her shoe. Supposedly Keira Knightley used a double for that shot, as she felt her own feet were too unattractive.
- Hair of Gold: Briony.
- Heel Realization: Briony's 'discovery' that Robbie was innocent.
- Irrevocable Message: the obscene letter Robbie accidentally sends to Cecilia.
- I Should Write a Book About This: The book is narrated by Briony, who considers telling the story to be her "atonement".
- It's Not Porn It's Art: the rather lengthy sex scene in the book.
- Miscarriage of Justice
- One-Scene Wonder: Vanessa Redgrave as Briony in the present day.
- The Oner: The continuous shot on the Dunkirk beaches in the movie. It took three tries, and the cameraman fainted afterward.
- The Penance
- Together in Death: see Died Happily Ever After
- Perspective Flip: Happens a couple of times, with Briony's and Cecilia's viewpoints being shown out of chronological order before intersecting.
- Rape as Drama: The assault on Lola. Also a case of Victim Falls For Rapist, at least in the film (in the book her motives are never explored), with the caveat that Lola isn't really in love, just pressured to marry Paul and unwilling to admit the truth.
- Shoot the Shaggy Dog
- Snicket Warning Label: The interview at the end. The story before that was sad enough, but after the interview it's tragic.
- Unreliable Narrator: Briony. She is telling the story as a novelist several decades in the future, and (in the film) explains that a divergence from reality began at the Dunkirk evacuation.
- Wall-Bang Her: Cecilia and Robbie in the library.
- War Is Hell
- Well-Intentioned Extremist: Word of God has it that Briony creates such a mess because she's so goodly and so certain of herself. Probably also qualifies as Lawful Stupid.
- Wet Sari Scene
- World War II