Centre stage for Brit film

RACHEL BULLER A glamorous 1930s party at a country house, the catastrophe of Dunkirk, a dark and tragic love story and two of Britain’s most promising young actors. Atonement has all the ingredients of an oscar-winning blockbuster and, as RACHEL BULLER writes, the fact that it opened the Venice Film Festival last night is great for all of the British film industry.


Not since The English Patient has a british film caused such a buzz. Of course there have been plenty of other great British films along the way, but Atonement is different. It has all the makings of being a cinematic great.

It is true to say that recent British film so often falls into the trap of becoming somewhat of a parody of itself - easy to categorise and all too often reliant on formulaic script writing.

Firstly there are the independent, underground films which may only be seen by a minority yet often go down in British film folklore and of which we should be proud, like the current Hallam Foe and This is England.

Then there are the cliché-ridden gangster flicks, occasionally excellent, more often poor imitations; then, of course, the period costume drama; and last, but not least, the Richard Curtis rom-com.

And while we play a prominent role in the writing, directing and acting of so many other big Hollywood productions, it is rare that we can claim one as our own.

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But Atonement is promising to be a proper British blockbuster - the magical combination of beautiful acting, dark, emotional and intense content, big budget production and, most importantly, bums-on-seats appeal.

There is already an Oscar whisper around the film, not always a good thing admittedly, but the first reviews are full of praise for the sweeping adaptation of Ian McEwan's best-selling novel.

And last night, it was chosen to open the prestigious Venice Film festival, which marked its world premiere.

The film is one of several British contenders for the Golden Lion prize of best film at the 75th event, other competitors include Sleuth, directed by Kenneth Branagh, with Jude Law and Michael Caine in the title roles, It's A Free World, from Ken Loach, and Peter Greenaway's Nightwatching.

Starring Keira Knightley, James McAvoy and Vanessa Redgrave, Atonement is set around the second world war and takes viewers on an emotional journey from the joie de vivre of a 1930s gathering at an English country house to the horrors of Dunkirk, wrapped around the lives of two lonely young people whose lives are shattered by the lies, deliberate or innocent, spawned by a child's over-active imagination.

It is only the second film from young director Joe Wright, who also worked with Keira Knightly on Pride & Prejudice.

The head of the Venice Film Festival, Marco Muller, said: “For the first time in its history, the opening film is the work of a young director.

“It is a film that, in terms of emotive and visual power, is greater than some of the major films of many acclaimed directors.”

Previous winners of the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival have included Vera Drake, Brokeback Mountain and Belle de Jour, so there is much reason to believe that this film marks an increasingly upward turn in the health of British cinema.

With a plethora of genuinely talented young actors and actresses finally stepping into the shoes of some our trusted greats, it genuinely feels as though home-grown films are growing in depth and stature.

Last year, Dame Helen Mirren scooped the best actress award at Venice for her role in The Queen, for which Peter Morgan won best screenplay.

And Atonement star James McAvoy is no stranger to the furore created by certain films on the festival and award circuit, having co-starred in last year's award-winning The Last King of Scotland, about Idi Amin, for which he gained a Bafta nomination.

McAvoy has enjoyed a meteoric rise to fame since he first starred in the Channel 4 cult comedy series Shameless. Since then he has starred in a number of films, including Bright Young Things, Inside, I'm Dancing, The Chronicles of Narnia and Starter for Ten, showing his incredibly diverse talent. But Atonement marks his first role as a leading man in a mainstream blockbuster,

As well as the British presence, US films also feature significantly at the festival, with Brad Pitt expected for the premiere of his new film, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, and George Clooney also due for his role in thriller Michael Clayton.

Quentin Tarantino has also helped put together a programme paying homage to the spaghetti western and two films tackling the war in Iraq will also feature.

The winning film and prizes for best director, actor and actress will be announced on September 8.

Read a full interview with Atonement star James McAvoy in EDP Saturday magazine on September 8.

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