Film costume: Emerald Green silk dress of Keira Knightley as Cecilia Tallis in film Atonement(2007)
Atonement is a 2007 romantic war drama film directed by Joe Wright and starring James McAvoy, Keira Knightley, Saoirse Ronan, Romola Garai, Benedict Cumberbatch and Vanessa Redgrave. It is based on the 2001 novel of the same name by Ian McEwan. The film chronicles a crime never committed and its consequences over the course of six decades, beginning in the 1930s.
A 13-year-old young girl from Aristocratical family Briony Tallis, the youngest daughter of the wealthy Tallis family who loves writing, accidentally sees something that puzzles her: Besides a fountain, her elder sister Cecilia Tallis takes off her outer clothes in front of their house keeper's son Robbie Turner and jumps into the fountain to retrieve a broken vase piece.
Then later the day, Robbie asks her to give a letter to Cecilia which she opens, shocked by his words expressing his sexual desire of Cecilia, but prior to dinner, a piece of jewelry on the floor leads her to the library where she sees something more shocking: Robbie and Cecilia make love.
Then the tragedy happens. At dinner time, it is found that the twin younger brothers of Lola, Briony's visiting cousin have been missing, and everyone goes out to look for them, including Briony, who sees with her torch a man raping Lola on the ground. When asked by the police, she is certain it is Robbie. So when Robbie finally returns with the twins he found, what waits for him is not gratitude but arrest.
Since that night, Cecilia, who is actually in love with Robbie, leaves her family, never forgiving her family and her younger sister Briony for what they did to Robbie.
After four years in prison Robbie joins army and fights in France. Toward the end of the war Robbie is wounded but is determined to go back to England to Cecilia, whom he met for the first time after his arrest by accident six months before, in the hospital where Cecilia works as a nurse. But he dies on Dunkirk beach just before the evacuation. And Cecilia dies a few month later in a London tube station bombing.
Six decades later, Briony, a successful novelist by now and dying, writes her last book, an autobiographical novel titled Atonement, where she invents a happy ending for her sister Cecilia and Robbie.
Although the storyline spans six decades, the film does not use conventional linear approach, but rather lots of rewinding and flashbacks, so it is quite refreshing and has some rather stunning visual effects.
Another unique thing about the film is it is able to tell a profound love story between Cecilia and Robbie, two protagonists in love who have had only a few rather brief encounters: In front of the fountain, in the library, at the dinner room, in the hospital and cafe of the hospital, then for the last time, on the streets of London.
In the film Cecilia, played by Keira Knightley, has worn a few simple and elegant outfits fitting for her class and character, all designed by Jacqueline Durran, such as her thin delicate pastel blouse at the beginning of the movie.
But the most unforgettable outfit of Keira Knightley is definitely the emerald green silk floor gown she as Cecilia wears for the dinner.
The green silk gown is a spaghetti strapped floor evening gown with full skirt, featuring deep v-neck line and plunging U backline, with a sash wrapped around the upper-hip and knotted in the front.
Keira Knightley has the extraordinary ability to attach her alma to the role she plays, like Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire in the film The Duchess, Lara in tv series Dr. Zhivago(2002), or Elizabeth Bennet in film Pride and Prejudice(2005). In Atonement, she again becomes the persona she plays, she is Cecilia, a whimsical high class lady with strong opinions and ideas. And she is blessed with an androgynous body, making her perfect fit for the time period her persona lives in.
Costume designer Jacqueline Durran was asked by the director Joe Wright to make a memorable dress suitable for a pivotal scene within the film. Wright had opined that the final piece should be green. So she bought the silk in white and had them dyed into different shades of green, among which Wright chose three, making the final color a composite green.
Wright also advised Durran that the dress should be full-skirted with movement at the hem and highlight the scene's setting of the hottest day of the year". Durran reviewed fashion books from the 1920s and 30s, including the designs of Coco Chanel, picking elements that would suit Knightley's figure, and designed the piece in a fine fabric to be "light and unstructured". The style of the dress is thus also of a composite style, it features elements of London fashion in the mid-1930s, but had a modern look.
One of the most modern features of the green dress is its sphagetti straps. In 1930s, thin straps were much less seen on a lady's evening gown than on her sleeping slip.
The embossed neckline and the knot in front of the chest can perhaps also seen as the designer's play with traditional embroidery.
The bareback and deep neckline features of the green gown are, on the other side, look modern but are not unprecedented. In film Riptide(1934) portraying the same time period as Atonement, Norma Shearer played the wife of An English upper class man, and in the film, she wore a backless gown with plunging v-neck designed by Adrian. And evening gowns of that period from other movies museums also showed similar features.
But all these elements, modern as well as true to its period, together with its deep green color, makes it a dress Cecilia would dare to wear, and dare to make love to the man she loves in it.
Following the film's release, the green dress received widespread press attention and acclaim. As a result of her work in the film, Jacqueline Durran was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Costume Design in 2007.
That same year, a Sky Cinema/InStyle poll voted the dress as "greatest film costume ever"; a decade after its release, it was "still regarded as one of the all-time greats." Replicas of the dress have sold for substantial amounts of money, with one retailing for over $30,000.
British Vogue listed the ensemble as one of the most unforgettable green dresses in film.
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