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'Atonement'

A little girl's spiteful lie and its terrible consequences are at the heart of this gorgeous, resonant adaptation of Ian McEwan's 2001 bestseller. A tale of heartbreak set in the 1930s and '40s, it chronicles events set in motion when 13-year-old Briony (a terrific Saoirse Ronan) sees something she thinks she understands, but actually doesn't. Her misinterpretation, born of a mix of naivete and class stereotyping, destroys two lives and profoundly warps a third.

The filmmakers swathe their story in the richly upholstered elegance of a stately English estate and steep it in the heady romance that's budding between Briony's sister Cecelia (Keira Knightley) and their housekeeper's son, Robbie (James McAvoy). Joe Wright (Pride and Prejudice) directs Atonement with an eye to framing each performance with spectacularly vivid images, including a genuinely breathtaking tracking shot on the bloody, wreckage-strewn beach at Dunkirk. (Recommended)

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