Never Let Me Go – Film review
A class act
12A * 103 mins * 11 February 2011
Director: Mark Romanek
Cast: Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield, Keira Knightley, Izzy Meikle-Small, Charlie Rowe
It doesn’t sound like sci-fi. A trio of cute-as-buttons kids at a picturesque boarding school is a premise that no more invokes images of dystopia than a Jane Austen adaptation. But then, that’s Never Let Me Go all over. Rather than aping the likes of Children Of Men, Mark Romanek has purposefully crafted a piece of speculative fiction that’s all but devoid of sci-fi tropes.
While Kazuo Ishiguro’s superb source novel divulges its secrets via a gradual drip-drip of information, an explanatory voiceover from Kathy H (Carey Mulligan) bookends the film, introducing the key concepts of “donors” and “carers”. In the process, it reveals rather too much to keep Ishiguro’s careful plot twists intact – although anyone who’s watched the trailer has already been spoilered more than they may have realised at the time.
If it wasn’t for the daily pills and regular, regimented medical checks, you could almost believe that Kathy (played by Meikle-Small as a child), Tommy (Howe, then Garfield) and Ruth (Ella Purnell, then Knightley) enjoy idyllic childhoods. But the early sun-dappled scenes give way to something more sinister. This is a skewed take on the present, not some future-imperfect Britain we might currently be lurching towards, though there’s a sense that these events aren’t really so fanciful. Don’t many of us live our lives at the expense of others, what with our fast fashion and shiny gadgets? Just how big a price would we expect other people to pay for our own advancement?
While more overtly dystopian stories are concerned with oppression and society’s erosion, there are no judgements here. We’re not told why things are the way they are, or who’s in charge. Nobody tries to break the rules, only to bend them. There’s no great escape, no Logan’s Run.
And for all its philosophical musings, Never Let Me Go is, more than anything, a simple, bittersweet story of romance and jealousy. Achingly sad at times, with outstanding performances, it avoids tedious dissection of the issues it raises, making for a careful, delicate meditation on the value and fleeting nature of time and human life. If only it assumed a little more patience from its audience – what a different film it would be if the first few minutes were cut.