Dangerous Liaisons

  • Directors: Stephen Frears
  • Producers: Norma Heyman, Hank Moonjean
  • Writers: Christopher Hampton
  • Genres: Drama, Romance
  • Actors: John Malkovich, Glenn Close, Michelle Pfeiffer, Swoosie Kurtz, Keanu Reeves, Mildred Natwick, and, Uma Thurman

The Marquise de Merteuil (Glenn Close) calls on her partner, the Vicomte de Valmont (John Malkovich), to seduce the young daughter of her cousin, Madame de Volanges (Swoosie Kurtz), thus having revenge on a former lover, the man to whom young Cécile de Volanges (Uma Thurman) is promised in marriage. At first, Valmont refuses her proposition: he wants to seduce the prudish Madame de Tourvel (Michelle Pfeiffer), who is spending time at his aunt’s house while her husband is abroad.

Upon discovering that Madame de Volanges had been secretly writing to Madame de Tourvel to warn her against his evil nature, Valmont changes his mind and decides to follow Merteuil’s scheme. They take advantage of the fact that young Cécile is in love with her music teacher, the Chevalier Danceny (Keanu Reeves), who does not qualify in the eyes of her mother as a potential suitor.

At his aunt’s, Valmont easily seduces Cécile. She later becomes pregnant with Valmont’s child, but suffers a miscarriage, avoiding a scandal. Valmont meanwhile steadily targets his main prey, Madame de Tourvel, who, though realizing that she has become his prey, eventually gives in to his tireless advances.

But unknown to Valmont, the womanizer his entire life, and much against the course of events, the magic of love casts a spell on Valmont. The devoted love of Tourvel shakes him to his roots. But it was too late for him to stop himself and others fall into dark vortex of the evil plans he and Merteuil had cooked up.

The film and play alter the novel’s original ending, in which Merteuil’s face is permanently disfigured due to illness.


  • Directors: Joe Wright 1
  • Producers: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Paul Webster 1
  • Writers: Novel, Ian McEwan, Screenplay, Christopher Hampton
  • Genres: Drama, Mystery, Romance, War
  • Actors: James McAvoy, Keira Knightley, Saoirse Ronan, Romola Garai, Vanessa Redgrave

The film comprises four parts, corresponding to the four parts of the novel. Some scenes are shown several times from different perspectives.

Briony Tallis (Saoirse Ronan) is a 13-year-old girl from a wealthy English family, the youngest of three, and an aspiring writer. Her older sister Cecilia (Keira Knightley) is educated at Cambridge University alongside Robbie Turner (James McAvoy), the son of their housekeeper (Brenda Blethyn), whose school fees are paid by Cecilia’s father. Though Robbie is headed for medical school soon, he is spending the summer gardening on the Tallis estate. The ginger-haired Lola Quincey (Juno Temple), age fifteen, and her younger twin brothers, Jackson and Pierrot (Felix and Charlie von Simson), are cousins of Briony and Cecilia who are visiting the family amidst their parents’ divorce. Lastly, Leon (Patrick Kennedy) â€“ Briony and Cecilia’s brother â€“ brings home a friend named Paul Marshall (Benedict Cumberbatch), who owns a chocolate factory that is acquiring a contract to produce army rations. The Tallis family is planning a special dinner, to which Leon happily invites Robbie, who accepts, much to Cecilia’s annoyance.

Briony has just finished writing a play entitled The Trials of Arabella, which she describes being as about “the complications of love”.[4] Her cousins, however, are being unmanageable about staging the play, and she is considerably frustrated. Alone in her bedroom, she witnesses a significant moment of sexual tension between Robbie and her sister by the fountain, when her sister strips down to her underwear and dips into the fountain, to retrieve the lost part of a vase that Robbie has clumsily broken. Because Briony cannot hear what the two are saying, and has witnessed only a fraction of the scene, she misunderstands its dynamics, and the seed of her misplaced distrust in Robbie is sown.

The film suddenly shifts forward to 1999, when an elderly Briony (Vanessa Redgrave), interviewed on television (by Anthony Minghella) about her latest novel Atonement, is overcome with emotion and memory. She reveals that she is dying of vascular dementia, and that this novel will be her last, but that it is also her first, as she has been drafting it intermittently since her time at St Thomas’s. Briony admits that the story is autobiographical and expresses great remorse at her actions. She admits that the end of the novel is, in fact, a fiction; in reality, both Robbie and Cecilia died before Briony could make amends, Robbie succumbing to septicemia the day before the evacuation at Dunkirk, and Cecilia perishing in the Ballham Tube Station flooding. Briony explains that she has altered the ending to give her sister and Robbie the chance at the happiness they both deserved, and which she took away from them. The film closes with a scene of a simple, seaside bliss between Cecilia and Robbie, together at long last. The scenery of the English cliff-side beach around them echoes that from a postcard that Cecilia gave Robbie on his departure for duty, as a promise that they would be together someday.