written by Christopher Hampton, from the novel by Ian McEwan
Interviewer (Anthony Minghella): Briony Tallis, I’d like to talk now about your new novel, Atonement, which comes out in a few days to coincide with your birthday. It’s your 21st novel and--
Briony Tallis (Vanessa Redgrave): It's--my last novel..
Interviewer: Oh really? Are you retiring?.
Briony Tallis: I’m dying. My doctor tells me I have something called vascular dementia, which is essentially a series of tiny strokes. Your brain closes down, gradually. You lose words, you lose your memory, which for a writer is pretty much the point. So that’s why I could finally write the book, I think. I had to. And why of course it is my last novel. Strangely enough, it would be just as accurate to call it my first novel. I wrote several drafts as far back as my time at St. Thomas’ hospital during the war. Just couldn’t ever find the way to do it..
Interviewer: Because the novel is autobiographical, is that right?.
Briony Tallis: Yes, entirely, I haven’t changed any names, including my own..
Interviewer: Well then, was that the problem?.
Briony Tallis: No. I had for a very long time decided to tell the absolute truth. No rhymes, no embellishments. And I think—you’ve read the book, you’ll understand why. I got firsthand accounts of all the events I didn’t personally witness: the conditions in prison, the evacuation to Dunkirk, everything. But the effect of all this honesty was rather pitiless, you see. I couldn’t any longer imagine what purpose would be served by it..
Interviewer: By what? Served by honesty?.
Briony Tallis: By honesty…or reality. Because, in fact, I was too much of a coward to go and see my sister in June, 1940. I never made that journey to Balham. So the scene in which I confess to them is imagined…invented. Any of that could never have happened, because—Robbie Turner died of septicemia at Bray dunes on June 1st 1940, the last day of the evacuation. And I was never able to put things right with my sister, Cecilia, because she was killed on the 15th of October, 1940, by the bomb that destroyed the gas and water mains of Balham tube station. So, my sister and Robbie were never able to have the time together they both so longed for, and deserved. And which ever since, I’ve…ever since I’ve always felt I prevented. But, what sense of hope or satisfaction could a reader derive from an ending like that? So in the book I wanted to give Robbie and Cecilia what they lost out on in life. I’d like to think this isn’t weakness or evasion. But a final act of kindness I gave them: their happiness.
Credit and many thanks to Jenn for this monologue, it is very much appreciated.
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