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KEIRA’S DEPTH IN VENICE

By GUY FLATLEY


In the wake of her frantic yet flimsy contributions to the achingly trivial “Pirates of the Caribbean” trilogy, Keira Knightley apparently decided it was time to get serious. So she took on the challenge of playing the tormented Cecilia Tallis in “Atonement,” Christopher Hampton’s adaptation of the Ian McEwan novel.

This heavy-duty drama has been directed by Joe Wright, who, in 2005’s “Pride & Prejudice,” helped Knightley reveal the wit and vulnerability beneath her glossy, high-fashion façade. Her spirited portrait of Emma Bennet earned an Oscar nomination, and the fact that “Atonement” has been selected to open the 2007 Venice Film Festival suggests she may well be among the Best Actress nominees when the next batch of Oscars are handed out on the night of February 24, 2008.

Keira--or, rather, Cecilia Tallis, the heroine of McEwan’s 2002 Booker Prize winner--is a privileged member of a prominent 1930s British family who is home from Cambridge in the summer of 1935 with handsome classmate Robbie Turner (James McAvoy), the son of the Tallis’ cleaning woman who has risen to the enviable position of Cecilia’s lover. Witnessing an intimate exchange between the two, Cecilia’s dangerously imaginative 13-year-old sister Briony contrives a story so shocking that it results in the imprisonment of Robbie. Life soon becomes a nightmare for the Tallis clan and for those unfortunate enough to have been part of their not-so-charmed circle. Their anguish endures through many stages and does not end until the dawning of the 21st century.

So who plays the deceitful Briony? Saoirse Ronan, at the time of the big lie; Romola Garai at the age of 18; and , blessing of blessings, Vanessa Redgrave as the older, presumably wiser, Briony.



TO READ MICHIKO KAKUTANI'S 2002 NEW YORK TIMES VALENTINE TO "ATONEMENT," CLICK HERE; FOR DETAILS ABOUT MORE NEW MOVIES BASED ON BOOKS, CLICK HERE; FOR ADDITIONAL FILMS STARRING VANESSA REDGRAVE AND OTHER OVER-50 ACTRESSES, CLICK HERE.