Beautifully shot, brilliantly written and featuring three young stars on top of their game, Chris Sullivan can't get the excellent Never Let Me Go out of his head – of course showing it a halfway decent hour helps too.
I saw Never Let Me Go during the London Film Festival and was not exactly impressed. Rather in the minority, I decided I’d better watch it again to prepare for an interview with writer Kazuo (The Remains Of The Day) Ishiguro on whose book it was based.
This time, the screening was at 6.30pm and not 9am and so maybe I was just in a better mood to catch what is an emotionally charged two hours. But whatever the case, I take it all back, and pledge to sit on the floor and let the director, Mark (One Hour Photo) Romanek, give me a good kicking right where it hurts most for letting his work fall foul of my less-than-sunny early morning disposition.
Yet, I feel that this is a film better on the second viewing. I described stars Keira Knightley and Carey Mulligan as rather dull but that is exactly why their performances work so well in this subdued, beautifully shot and magnificently crafted picture that I now can’t get out of my head.
This is a tale of a gang of kids growing up in Hailsham, a sheltered English boarding school and the plot unravels like a well wrapped Christmas present: the director dropping little hints that imply that this is no ordinary school and these are no ordinary pupils. Indeed, the school has a horrifying and hidden agenda for its charges.
'We all decided the film should be about those who accept their fate and do not try to rebel' – Kazuo Ishiguro
The story is narrated by Kathy (rendered by the astonishingly adept Mulligan) revolves around three of the pupils – Kathy who loves Tommy (Andrew Garfield, who is also the new Spider-Man) and Ruth (Knightley on her best form yet), who steals him from her.
“We all decided that the film should be about those who accept their fate and do not try to rebel,” says Ishiguro sitting in his North London home. “Today there exists this film formula where brave slaves rebel and win against the odds.
“But that doesn't interest me. So after much discussion, we took the brave decision (which was especially admirable for the studio execs) to deliver a film that not only does not have a happy ending but also shows these people who do not have the viewpoint or perspective to rebel.
“They almost embrace their fate. It is a fact of life. And that is what we wanted the film to be about and we made a very conscious decision to do so.
“Many people the world over, whether they might live in a war zone, be in a violent marriage, be ordered to run into enemy fire and do so, unlike in books and films, accepting their lot.
“But there is also a kind of anger in the film," he adds, after a moment. "When some sort of articulate rage is expressed then there is nothing left to do but get back to the life they have and try to conduct it with some dignity to do the best with what they've been given."
I’ll say no more about the plot but will say that this is a truly essential film that translates the author’s tome to the big screen with all the care he used to write it.
Alex Garland’s screenplay is delicate and poignant while the performances to the last are imbued with a simple and rather mature resignation beyond the actor’s years. In short, a film that makes you think about life, its painful transience and our role in it.
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