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Tuesday April 23rd 2024

Atonement | 2007

Atonement filming location: Newcomen Terrace, Redcar, North Yorkshire
Atonement location: the spectacular ‘Dunkirk’ evacuation: Newcomen Terrace, Redcar, North Yorkshire

Blazing summer on a country estate, a young man out of his social class and a child bearing messages between clandestine lovers with tragic repercussions – there are certainly echoes of Joseph Losey’s film of LP Harley’s The Go-Between in Joe Wright’s adaptation of the Ian McEwan novel.

There’s even a present-day epilogue featuring a member of the Redgrave acting dynasty.

Atonement location: Stokesay Court
Atonement location: the Tallis house: Stokesay Court, near Ludlow, Shropshire | Photograph: Wikimedia / PJ Marriott

The family home of sisters Cecilia (Keira Knightley) and Briony Tallis (Saoirse Ronan) is Stokesay Court near Onibury, about five miles northwest of Ludlow in Shropshire.

The interiors, too are Stokesay, as are the grounds – including the cottage of servant’s son Robbie Turner (James McAvoy).

A late Victorian mansion, completed in 1892, Stokesay was designed by Thomas Harris to include such modern innovations as electric lighting and heating. The grand house, which saw use as a hospital and a home for evacuees during the war, is open for tours.

Atonement location: Stokesay Court
Atonement location: the carved wood interior, and the ‘fountain’ made for the film: Stokesay Court, Shropshire | Photograph: Stokesay Court / Jonathon Player

You’ll notice that the fountain, alongside which the actions of Cecilia and Robbie are so disastrously misinterpreted by young Briony, is not nearly so elaborate as it appears on screen. But don’t worry – the sculpture (made specifically for the film) is currently displayed inside the house.

On his release from prison, after being falsely accused of sexual assault, the newly enlisted Robbie meets up with Cecilia in the 'Swallow' tea room. The bustling 30s-style restaurant is the old Bethnal Green Town Hall, Cambridge Heath Road at Patriot Square, London E2.

Full marks if you remember the distinctive wood-panelling as the office of 'Hatchet' Harry in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, as Benicio Del Toro's tailor's in another Guy Ritchie film, Snatch, or the glamorous deco office of record company supremo Eddie Izzard in Todd Haynes’s Velvet Goldmine, among its many other screen appearances. The town hall, which formerly housed the London Film Office, has since been redeveloped to become the Town Hall Hotel & Apartments.

Atonement location: Redcar
Atonement location: Cecilia catches the bus as Robbie goes to war: Great Scotland Yard at Scotland Place, Whitehall

Great Scotland Yard (which gave its name to the Metropolitan Police HQ), running between Whitehall and Northumberland Avenue in the heart of Westminster, is the stretch of road on which Robbie says his goodbyes before being shipped off to fight in France.

Did you recognise the same spot, with the covered walkway on Scotland Place, as the entrance to the ‘Ministry of Magic’ in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I?

The ‘French’ countryside, through which Robbie and his unit trudge, is represented by the marshy fenlands of East Anglia, particularly two nature reserves managed by the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds).

Nene Washes, near Whittlesey, east of Peterborough, Cambridgeshire (and known locally as the Whittlesey Washes) is an excellent place to see birds of prey in summer or, when flooded in winter, flocks of Bewick swans, ducks and geese.

Entrance to the Washes is free – though donations are appreciated – from the Nene Way footpath at Eldernell. Scenes were filmed at the end of Eldernell Lane, outside Coates, a small village close to Whittlesey, plus the nearby village of March.

The Ouse Washes can be found further southeast towards Ely, where filming centred on the area around Pymore.

To the north, it’s in an orchard at Walpole St. Andrew, just across the county boundary in Norfolk, that Robbie discovers the bodies of the murdered schoolgirls.

The coastal marshes are at Gedney Drove End, a beach on the Wash in Lincolnshire.

As the exhausted group track toward the coast, the destroyed factory by the railway lines is the Corus Steelworks at Redcar, on the coast of North Yorkshire. The facility is still operational – all that bomb damage is CGI.

Atonement location: Redcar
Atonement location: the spectacular ‘Dunkirk’ evacuation: Newcomen Terrace, Redcar, North Yorkshire

The overwhelmingly melancholy sequence of the ‘Dunkirk’ evacuation was filmed on the seafront of Redcar itself, about seven miles northeast of Middlesbrough. For the rightly celebrated epic shot, a bandstand and ferris wheel were added, and 1,000 extras filled the stretch of Newcomen Terrace between Turner Street and Henry Street. The Coatham Hotel and the Regent Cinema were taken back to the 40s.

Atonement location: Stokesay Court
Atonement location: the ‘French’ picture house: the Regent Cinema, Newcomen Terrace, Redcar, North Yorkshire

The cinema, showing Marcel Carné’s 1938 Le Quai Des Brumes, wasn’t in the original script, but was added when director Wright saw Redcar’s seafront Regent Cinema. Built as the New Pavilion Theatre in 1928, over the entrance of a defunct pier, it was roofed entirely in glass – and in fact is still often referred to by to older residents as the 'glasshouse'.

The theatre finally closed and remained almost derelict for many years until it was resurrected to live on as an independent cinema. The Regent fittingly hosted the regional premiere of Atonement.

As the debilitated Robbie lies down to await the boat home, the nighttime streets of ‘Dunkirk’ are Fish Dock Road, just north of the Cleethorpes Road (A180), at Grimsby Docks, in the fishing port of Grimsby in Lincolnshire.

Atonement location: Redcar
Atonement location: Cecilia and Robbie’s ‘Balham’ flat: Lydhurst Avenue, Streatham

Back in London, the older Briony (Romola Garai) is serving as a nurse. The totally convincing wards of ‘St. Thomas's Hospital’ are actually sets built at Shepperton Studios, though the hospital’s storerooms and dormitory, were filmed at Park Place, Remenham, near Henley-on-Thames in Oxfordshire.

Juno Temple would soon be filming at Park Place, now a private home, when it became the notorious girls’ school in the 2009 revamp of St Trinian’s.

The exterior of ‘St Thomas’ is University College in Bloomsbury, central London.

Atonement location: Redcar
Atonement location: Lola marries Paul Marshall: St John Smith Square, Westminster

Learning of the impending wedding of the unwitting Lola (Juno Temple) to seriously nasty Paul Marshall (Benedict Cumberbatch), Briony walks along North Lord Street in Westminster to St John’s Smith Square, only to hold her peace guiltily during the service.

Legend has it that architect Thomas Archer asked Queen Anne for advice on the design of St John’s. The monarch was clearly having a bad day. “Like that!” she snapped, kicking over her footstool. Hence the four towers and the nickname ‘Queen Anne’s footstool’. The 1728 Baroque church is now a popular concert venue, and can also be seen in Lone Scherfig’s 2009 Oscar-nominated An Education.

In a painful bid to make amends, Briony visits Cecilia and Robbie in ‘Balham’. Although it is in South London, the ‘ghastly’ little flat is the rear of a rather nice house on Lydhurst Avenue at Mount Nod Road in Streatham. It’s only a few minutes away from the bareknuckle fight venue in Guy Ritchie’s Snatch.

The scene down in ‘Balham’ tube station was filmed in the disused Aldwych tube station. At the end of a little-used one-stop spur of the Piccadilly Line, running back and forth to Holborn, Aldwych station finally closed its doors to the public in September 1994. Since then, it’s found fame as London Transport's regular venue for shooting Underground scenes.

The station now has a lengthy roster of credits, including An American Werewolf in London, Gary Oldman’s directorial debut Nil by Mouth, the Gwyneth Paltrow romantic fantasy Sliding Doors, oddball gangster film The Krays, the Joe Orton biopic Prick Up Your Ears and Robert de Niro's The Good Shepherd. And although the fictitious 'Vauxhall Cross' station in Die Another Day is a studio set, its design is based on Aldwych.

Atonement location: Cuckmere Haven on the East Sussex coast
Atonement location: Robbie and Cecilia’s idyllic retreat: Cuckmere Haven on the East Sussex coast | Photograph: Shutterstock / Ian Woolcock

The beach featured on Robbie’s postcard and seen at the film’s conclusion, is Cuckmere Haven, at the mouth of the River Cuckmere between Seaford and Eastbourne, on the East Sussex coast. With its breathtaking view of the spectacular white limestone cliffs, the Seven Sisters, the idyllic home of Robbie and Cecilia seems just too cute to be real – but it’s the coastguard cottage (just below the houses seen in the photo). You can see the cliffs again in Bill Condon’s Mr Holmes, with Ian McKellen as the retired detective.

And you can see the beach at Cuckmere at the beginning of Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves, as Robin and Azeem arrive in England.