Photo: Jeffrey Mayer/WireImage.com
A letter not meant to be read, an encounter glimpsed by the wrong eyes—a perfect storm of happenstance leads to tragedy in Atonement, which moves from the idyll of an English country estate to the front lines of World War II. Gorgeous, haughty Cecilia (Keira Knightley) is in love with the family housekeeper's son, Robbie (James McAvoy), but they're forced apart when Cecilia's sister—a budding playwright with a taste for manufactured drama—disastrously misinterprets the situation. British filmmaker Joe Wright, who directed Knightley in Pride & Prejudice, revels in the challenge of bringing Ian McEwan's panoramic 2001 novel to the screen (particularly breathtaking is the long, intricately choreographed tracking shot that follows Robbie through the chaos of the evacuation of Dunkirk). Suffused at once with profound sorrow and intoxicating beauty, Atonement is a lush throwback to the 1940s work of British filmmakers David Lean and Michael Powell. Once in a while, they do make them like they used to.