Movie review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
Atonement Movie Poster Image
Popular with kidsParents recommend
Stellar literary adaptation too mature for kids.
  • R
  • 2007
  • 123 minutes

Parents say

age 13+
Based on 16 reviews

Kids say

age 13+
Based on 30 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

A young adolescent's distortion of the truth leads to devastating, irreversible results. A grown woman tries to "atone" for her past wrongdoing.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Briony lies, with serious consequences for others, but ultimately tries to make up for it.


The war-related scenes in France and at Dunkirk are disturbing: soldiers shooting their horses, a field full of dead schoolgirls, amputees, bloody soldiers, etc. There's a graphic scene of a patient's head injury at a London hospital, as well as many bloody men. Another scene shows dying and dead men, as well as a group of Londoners about to perish.


Cecilia and Robbie share a few passionate kisses and an intimate lovemaking scene, but there's no nudity -- just quick shots of sleeves slipping off of shoulders and tuxedo pants opening, etc.


"C--t" (aka "the most horrible word you've ever heard") is shown typewritten, several times. Other words include "bastard," "f--k," "s--t," and more.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

The Tallises drink cocktails, wine, and champagne at a dinner party. During the Dunkirk scene, soldiers are shown drinking in a makeshift pub, while one character tries in vain to get a drink. Men and women smoke cigarettes.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Atonement is an adaptation of Ian McEwan's best-selling novel set in pre-WW II England. It deals with themes -- including adolescent immaturity, class differences, lying, and passion -- that are too complex for all but the most mature teens to really be able to grasp and put in context. There are a couple of sexual situations, and the extended scene of the evacuation from Dunkirk is bloody and disturbing. A particular "bad" word ("c--t"), used out of desire instead of anger, is shown in typeface several times throughout the film. Other language includes "s--t" and "f--k"; there's also social drinking and period-accurate smoking.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written bysarge123 February 4, 2015

Superb film, some mature content.

Great movie. Moderate violence and sex, strong language (mostly seen, not heard).
Adult Written byBestPicture1996 July 23, 2014

Sweeping tale of love and misery

This isn't a happy movie at all. The title itself is trying to redeem yourself for a sin you have committed, which Briony Tallis tries to do in this film,... Continue reading
Teen, 17 years old Written byMJ33 March 20, 2021


Atonement is an incredibly sad movie about how one lie can change peoples lives. A young girl lies about what she sees and completely upends a young couples liv... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byAda Wolf February 28, 2020

A Wonderful Movie!

It a wonderful adaptation of Ian McEwan’s book. Although they made a few modifications. It didn’t bother me much though. I say that kids over 14 can watch the m... Continue reading

What's the story?

Based on the best-selling novel by English author Ian McEwan, ATONEMENT is an epic love story about Robbie Turner (James McAvoy), the son of a rich English family's housekeeper, and upper-crust beauty Cecelia Tallis (Keira Knightley). Robbie, who was sent to Cambridge on the Tallis family's benevolent dime, secretly admires Cecilia. Cee's 13-year-old sister Briony, a fabulist who lives in her own girlish world of plays and poems, harbors a crush on Robbie, which leads her to misinterpret a steamy moment between Cee and Robbie as an attack. Fueled by a shocking love letter draft that Robbie unintentionally sends to Cee, Briony accuses Robbie of an unrelated sexual crime. And suddenly the film, like the book, skips ahead five years, as Robbie -- now an ex-con soldier -- and two other men walk through war-torn France to the pivotal evacuation at Dunkirk. Robbie is just one of tens of thousands of men waiting to get back to England -- with just his letters from Cee and the memory of their stolen embraces to give him comfort. As in the book, as the movie nears its end, viewers meet an elderly Briony, convincingly played by Vanessa Redgrave, who still wears the same hairstyle and figureless dresses sported by the 13-year-old Ronan. She's finally gotten a chance to fully make up for her adolescent mistakes.

Is it any good?

Knightley and McAvoy have enough chemistry to make their scenes sizzle, and McAvoy in particular breaks out as an actor destined for leading-man status. His boyish looks allow him to be forceful and vulnerable at the same time, and he's surprisingly attractive -- but not in an overwhelming Brad Pitt way that distracts from his performance. Wright and Knightley (who also starred in his Pride & Prejudice) also seem to understand each other, and if a third film results from the pairing, it will be quite clear that he's found his professional muse.

McEwan's novel isn't easy to translate onto the big screen. The book is about the power of words, the blurry line between fantasy and truth, and the consequence of not understanding the meaning of words or sexual attraction. But Atonement director Joe Wright, who made 2006's Oscar-nominated Pride & Prejudice, does an admirable job of creating a faithful adaptation that resonates with viewers, whether they're familiar with the book or not.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the impact of Briony's lie. What misconceptions led her to think she saw Robbie committing a crime? What does the story convey about the power of words and the flexibility of truth? Older teens who are precocious readers may want to read the novel and discuss whether the film is an accurate, adequate adaptation.

Movie details

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