The length of screen time in a film is almost insignificant if an actor or actress knows what they are doing with those handful of minutes. If done correctly, a handful of minutes can have a tremendous impact with audiences, even earning them an Oscar. It’s not a far-fetched claim. Judi Dench won her supporting actress Oscar for Shakespeare in Love for a performance that lasted roughly six minutes. Ingrid Bergman won her third Oscar for a performance whose length was roughly six minutes in Murder on the Orient Express. Of course, the current record goes to Beatrice Straight for Network, whose performance lasted only five minutes and forty seconds and was entirely shot in a single scene.
As evidenced from the above examples, screen time is immaterial if one utilizes each minute to their advantage. In that regard, Vanessa Redgrave is only in Atonement for roughly ten minutes. In fact, she is only in the final ten minutes of the film, yet those minutes offered the most profound moment of the film, which dramatically affects the viewer. In ten minutes, Vanessa Redgrave’s character offers the tremendous sentiments of guilt and sadness, while also providing one of the cruelest realities ever brought to the silver screen. Yet even after Vanessa Redgrave provides this shock to the audience, she offers a sense of hope, or at least her attempt at correcting a wrong that cannot ever truly be corrected. Essentially, Vanessa Redgrave’s performance pulls the rug from under the viewer, which was astonishing for Redgrave to achieve considering Atonement already was a dense film about truth, lost love, and war.
Vanessa Redgrave may have had a chance of being nominated if she had not been overshadowed by then-newcomer Saoirse Ronan, who wowed audiences with her performance as a child who makes up a vindictive lie that changes the lives of all those around her. Ronan was given the Oscar traction and was ultimately nominated in the supporting actress category. If Ronan hadn’t excelled as she did in her performance, Vanessa Redgrave undoubtedly would have been nominated instead.