On the hottest day of the summer of 1935, thirteen-year-old Briony Tallis sees her older sister Cecilia strip off her clothes and plunge into the fountain in the garden of their country house. Watching Cecilia is their housekeeper’s son Robbie Turner, a childhood friend who, along with Briony’s sister, has recently graduated from Cambridge.
By the end of that day the lives of all three will have been changed forever. Robbie and Cecilia will have crossed a boundary they had never before dared to approach and will have become victims of the younger girl’s scheming imagination, and Briony will have committed a dreadful crime, the guilt for which will colour her entire life.
James McAvoy considered the script the best he had ever read.
Joe Wright conducted three weeks of rehearsals beforehand, ensuring that by the time the cameras rolled all the actors were comfortable with their characters and the environment they inhabited.
Robbie Turner: [voiceover] Dearest Cecilia, the story can resume. The one I had been planning on that evening walk. I can become again the man who once crossed the surrey park at dusk, in my best suit, swaggering on the promise of life. The man who, with the clarity of passion, made love to you in the library. The story can resume. I will return. Find you, love you, marry you and live without shame.
Cecilia Tallis: [crying] I don’t know how I could’ve been so ignorant about myself… so… so stupid. And you know what I’m talking about, don’t you? You knew before I did.
Robbie Turner: [about the letter he sent her] It was a mistake.
Robbie Turner: Have you been in touch with your family?
Cecilia Tallis: Robbie…