Like it or not, certain kinds of films get a free pass when it comes to class and Atonement ticks all the right boxes. First, it's based on a novel by Ian McEwan (Endless Love) so it's got literary cred on its side, not to mention a story that's actually about something more than glamorous people talking loud and saying nothing. Second, it's (in part) a love story set against the backdrop of the Second World War - think a less morally dubious version of the extremely classy The English Patient. And third, the characters are all either English gentry or their grimy yet studly servants, and decades of ABC miniseries have trained us to see snooty types in dinner jackets in the 1930's as class all the way. Usually all this class would be hiding a whole lot of not much at its core (again, think The English Patient), but thankfully all this effort hasn't been wasted on a featherweight story.
It's the 1930s, and Briony(Saoirse Ronan) is a precocious child busy writing plays and stories in her family's huge mansion in the English countryside while her older sister Cecilia (Keira Knightly) is slowly circling Robbie (JamesMcAvoy), the made good son of a former servant. Briony thinks she's worldly and wise, but when she jumps to conclusions about her sister's relationship -and then uses those conclusions to tear their lives apart - she soon realises that she's nothing more than a painful meddler. Her efforts to right her wrong make up the second half of the film, and while they initially seem to be setting this film up to be little more than a very well crafted and highly entertaining tale of love lost and (perhaps) found again, it's the revelations towards the end regarding exactly how far Briony is willing to go to engineer a "happily everafter" that lift this from a engaging but lightweight romance to something really special. You might even call it classy.