Here at the Toronto Film Festival, I had a chance to sit down with Joe Wright, one of the most exciting filmmakers working today. For the last two years I've been saying good things to everyone I know about his most recent film, a loose and lively adaptation of Jane Austen's classic Pride & Prejudice, and now I'll be able to change the subject to the joys of his new picture, an adaptation of Ian McEwan's Atonement. If you're at TIFF like me, don't miss out on an opportunity to catch a screening of Atonement -- it's the best film I've come across at this year's fest, and it's sure to be a tough competitor come Oscar time. During our conversation, Joe and I talked about his unique directing style, which among other things utilizes stream-of-consciousness techniques, and we talked about the challenge of adapting a novel that was shortlisted for every book prize imaginable. Joe and I started by talking for a few about what we've seen so far at the festival -- he recommends Control -- but eventually I hit the button and got us down to business.


RS: Have you seen the Ken Loach movie yet? It's good.

JW: No, I haven't.

RS: It's got a social relevance angle, but it plays like a thriller. Very tight.

JW: Okay, that's exciting -- I love Ken Loach.

RS: One thing I wanted to mention about the movie version of Atonement, and the book, is that I'm not sure I buy Part 3 -- I think we're dealing with an unreliable narrator at that point. Obviously she's giving us certain key facts, but also sliding in a very dramatic Florence Nightingale story. Do you buy Part 3 on its merits?

JW: I do. I do because of the research that we did. I was very fascinated by the role St. Thomas plays. St. Thomas has a very personal role in my own life, and so I was interested in the history of that hospital, the oldest hospital in London. And it's where Florence Nightingale originally formed the first nursing training, etc. And I was very interested in the history of it, and through research and talking to various people about nursing during the war, I discovered that these kids, basically ... these 18 and 19 year-old girls were there and were employed to nurse these dying men. For instance, during the blitz when bombs were falling all throughout, especially areas close to the river -- the German bombers would just use the reflection of the water to guide their aircraft -- they would take everyone, take all the patients they could down to the basement, to the air raid shelters, but then those patients that couldn't be taken down there, one nurse would be left in the ward with bombs falling all around her, to hold the hand of these dying men. I found that incredibly moving, this heroism shown by these kids, basically. It happened, and that was your duty. I find it fairly inconceivable for young people now to understand the sacrifice those girls made.