BBC2: Tuesday 14 July, 2.35pm
Dominic Guard as an overawed 12-year-old staying at a school friend’s palatial Norfolk house during a stifling Edwardian summer. The boy is used by beguiling Julie Christie, unhappily engaged to affable aristocractic officer Edward Fox, to carry notes back and forth between her secret lover, tenant farmer Alan Bates. Atonement without the artifice, Harold Pinter’s characteristically pithy adaptation of L.P. Hartley’s exquisitely bitter novel doesn’t shy away from its theatrical spects. The result is a satisfying journey into the past – a foreign country, in Hartley’s immortal phrase: “They do things differently there.” Scored with cascading piano chords by Michel Legrand and brilliantly photographed by Gerry Fisher in splendid settings redolent of rustic Constable landscapes, the film also sings with resonant sounds: the clatter of shoes on wooden stairwells and hooves on cobblestones, the crashing of dinner gongs, the clap of cricket bat against ball, the chiming of clocks, the tolling of cathedral bells, and the ringing of bells in domestic quarters. Everyone knows their place, except poor besotted Dominic Guard. His uncomprehending Leo is the most affecting character (it is the title role, after all) and young master Guard gives a gravely impressive performance that’s as good as Christian Bale’s memorable debut in Steven Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun.