Welcome to The Birthday Take, a column dedicated to celebrating Oscar nominees and winners' birthdays by paying tribute to the work that got them noticed. This isn't meant to be an exhaustive retrospective, but more of a highlight of one nominated work that makes them noteworthy. The column will run whenever there is a birthday and will hopefully give a dense exploration of the finest performances and techniques applied to film. So please join me as we blow out the candles and dig into the delicious substance.
Recipient: Saoirse Ronan
Born: April 12, 1994 (21 years old)
Nomination: Best Supporting Actress - Atonement (nominated) as Briony Tallis, aged 13
The Oscars in 2007 was an exceptional year that saw There Will Be Blood take on No Country for Old Men (the latter won) in one of the best races that the Oscars saw that decade. However, in the supporting categories was a period piece called Atonement which not only helped to put director Joe Wright on the map, but featured a cast of impeccable performances from the likes of Kiera Knightley, James McAvoy and the little girl of whom the story would be told from: Saoirse Ronan. For her, it was the breakout role that would lead her onto other fascinating performances, including Hanna and last year's Best Picture nominee The Grand Budapest Hotel.
If one was to make a list of the best child actors of the past 15 years, it would be hard to leave off her performance in Atonement. The story of an affair from a 13-year-old's perspective during World War II was something fresh and exciting. Thanks to Wright's beautiful direction, the story lets Ronan narrate the story with vulnerability as a fly on the wall observing the actions from afar and feeling insecure about coming forward. While the story also takes time to observe the couple as the romantic journey that they want, the highlight remains watching her live with that knowledge and feel herself full of regret. Does she do the honest thing even if it unbalances everything?
She is a performer who thankfully isn't too posh despite feeling too British and occasionally looking like Tatum O'Neal. There's an innocence to her face that makes her timidity shine and creates something that has helped to define her performances since. She may appear naive, but she is secretly strong and has the willpower to do what she believes in. Still, with a plot so rich with conflict, Atonement was an excellent chance for her to reflect a reserved form that few child actors know how to pull off.
Hopefully in time she will return to the Oscars with another nomination. For now, the distinguished award has only highlighted her career since, even if it has occasional stumbling blocks like The Lovely Bones or The Host. She is a specific talent and one that is hard to pin down. However, when her eclectic charm is on display, she is able to radiate and elevate the performances of those around her. With her barely turning 21, she has already given an amazing career that will hopefully only continue to grow and will hopefully find something as heartbreaking and memorable as that of Atonement.
In the realm of great child actors, Ronan is definitely in the consideration. As she exits the phase and enters adulthood, hopefully her charm will remain. There's very little to suggest against this as even her most conflicting roles at least reflect a desire to do something weird and different. She may not be the most familiar name, nor the easiest for some to spell. However, she still has earned quite a reputation as a performer that few other young nominees of the 00's have gotten. That alone is something that we could be thankful for.