Difficult to stay true to McEwan’s love story, director Wright says
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With only two feature films to his credit, Joe Wright is quickly making a name for himself as one of Hollywood’s most promising new directors.
His first feature foray, an adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride And Prejudice, was nominated for four Academy Awards last year, including a best actress nod for star Keira Knightley (Pirates Of The Caribbean).
Wright’s sophomore effort, an adaptation of British novelist Ian McEwan’s love story Atonement, is also winning rave reviews and receiving considerable Oscar buzz.
Upon reading the book, the 35-year-old native of London was instantly drawn to the idea of yet another adaptation.
“It was a film I was desperate to make,” Wright says.
“I knew I had to realize what was happening in my head. It was a challenge, but the challenge was to be as faithful as possible. I certainly didn’t think the book needed fixing as is so often the way with adaptations. I wanted to see if I could be as faithful as possible to all the twists and turns and literary structural challenges.”
Atonement follows the Second World War-era romance between Robbie Turner (The Last King Of Scotland’s James McAvoy) and the bourgeois Cecilia Tallis (Knightley), whose lives are thrown into turmoil when Turner is wrongly convicted and sentenced for a sexual assault after Tallis’ sister Briony pretends to have seen him commit the act.
Although Wright dismisses any assertion he’s become somewhat of an expert at bringing novels to life on screen, he acknowledges a change in approach to what can be an extraordinarily daunting task.
“In the past, adapters of novels have said there comes a time when you have to throw the book away and I’ve always sort of nodded — I thought wisely — and said yes, obviously there comes a time. But I question that now, and I think it’s very important to keep the book very close to you.”
Wright also found himself questioning just how to film one of the film’s key scenes, a re-enactment of the Dunkirk evacuation of 1940.
He joked that perhaps a five-minute tracking shot would be the solution — similar to ones used in his past directing efforts — slept on the idea, and decided to employ what was originally a fleeting idea. The shot is already being hailed by some critics as one of the year’s great cinematic moments.
“I was bowled over by (the Elton John video I Want Love, which consists of one long tracking shot) and I was inspired to try a long Steadycam shot like that in my last TV mini-series called Charles II,” Wright says.
“I just love doing it. I love the theatricality of the experience, to create a kind of happening and then just watch it roll. I like letting go of control and that’s exactly what one does when one does those takes. It kind of creates an amazing atmosphere on-set and a wonderful adrenaline rush for everyone.”
Atonement is now in theatres.