It has its strengths, I suppose: good photography, general seriousness of intent, signs of a budget well spent... none of these bare minimum qualities are to be taken for granted. But I don't like it.
I don't like the ending, for a start. The central character, supposedly the novel's author, first gives us an ending in which the various conflicts are resolved and some kind of happiness restored, then tells us it did not really happen that way; the lovers were both killed without meeting again, wrongs were never forgiven etc etc. People like happy endings, she explains, but life cannot be expected to conform to such expectations.
Which, if it were a real autobiography, would be fair enough, and very moving in its own way. But this is a fiction, written by a man called Ian, so what's the point? Why ignore his own moral? Why say that audiences and readers prefer to leave with a sense of hope, hint that the very point of fiction may have something to do with these matters, and then not only renege on that trust but do so in such a sneaky, clever-clever way? The answer has nothing to do with narrative or dramatic effectiveness, and everything to do with a writer showing off.
Still, at least it makes sense as a literary device, confided to us at the end of the book in a voice that has been speaking to us throughout. The film's desperate attempt to convert it into a dramatic twist, by suddenly showing the central character in old age (with the same hairstyle she had when she was twelve) explaining it all very... very... very... slowly, on an incredibly unrealistic chat show, doesn't play at all.
And we have the usual problem with period. Visually it's fine: the hairstyles, the decor, Keira Knightley's swimming costume - all of these are spot on. But the rest is baloney. Adrift in the solipsistic ignorance of their own times, modern actors are no longer able to inhabit the more robust skins of earlier generations - they look like kids at the dressing up box; they can't even smoke casually. Especially annoying, then, to see them pretending to be World War II soldiers. (Tip to director: next time you want to convince us that the Dunkirk evacuees were brutal, despairing maniacs, don't include any real documentary footage of the genuine article, with humanity and stoicism and decency shining from every face.)
As a piece of drama set before and during the war, I simply don't buy a second of it. I have very protective feelings about the nineteen-thirties, which seem to me the most optimistic as well as the most tragic years of their century, and this sequence of events simply does not fit there.
These people, and their fecklessness, pettiness, self-obsession and incontinence, have not come from there.