Keira Knightley has made a career in period dramas. She is far from typecast, with her roles ranging from Elizabeth Bennett in Pride and Prejudice (a favourite of mine) to Sabina Spielrein, the world’s first female psychoanalyst in A Dangerous Method. I love that she never succumbed to cheesy romantic comedies like so many of her peers. Keira wears period costumes well. I loved her in The Duchess (see previous Screen Style post), and I’m sure I’ll love her in Anna Karenina, which is not-so-coincidentally being directed by Joe Wright and costumed by Jacqueline Durran, the same duo responsible for Pride and Prejudice and today’s subject, Atonement.
Adapted from an Ian McEwan novel by the same name, Atonement is a tragic story for pretty much everyone involved. Honestly, it’s one of the most depressing films I’ve ever seen. But it’s also one of the most beautiful, partially for its outstanding costumes, particularly the ones worn by Keira Knightley’s strong-willed Cecilia Tallis.
The film begins in 1935, an opulent pre-war time when haute couture was its grandest (for the wealthy, anyway). Some of the design legends that excelled in that decade were Elsa Schiaparelli and Madeleine Vionnet, the latter of which was a direct inspiration for Cecilia’s now-iconic green dress. For the equally stunning white swimsuit, Durran looked to photographs by Jacques-Henri Lartigue, depicting the 1930’s French Riviera bathing beauties. There is such decadence in the back detailing, with the halter and the cutout, confirming Cecilia’s sophisticated tastes.
When it came to beauty, hair and makeup designer Ivana Primorac stuck to the shades and products of the era, looking to classic Chanel colours to give the seductive Cecelia a fresh, youthful look, avoiding mascara and eyeliner. She does, however, sport a sultry deep crimson lipstick and a matching half-moon manicure which was very much in vogue back then (also seen in the horrid, but stylish, W.E.)
The film’s most dramatic style moment is the aforementioned Vionnet-inspired green dress, with its biased cut that the designer first popularized. Novelist Ian McEwan dedicated several pages to Cecilia choosing her dress for the important dinner, eventually deciding on what she thought made her reflection look like a “mermaid who rose to meet her in her own full-length mirror.” The emerald green colour was picked by director Joe Wright, who chose it for its lushness, symbolizing temptation in this picturesque British country setting. Of course, it needed to appear shocking in the eyes of Cecilia’s nosy 13 year old sister Briony (Saoirse Ronan), who catches Cecilia and her lover Robbie (the dreamy James McAvoy) in midst of an intense sex session (sorry, I refuse to say “lovemaking”) against the monumental library bookshelf. (No spoilers for those that haven’t seen it, but I really hate that little girl.)