When it comes to arts journalism, film critics have it easiest. Insulated by all the glamour of the silver screen, it’s easy to remain indifferent to the people whose work you’re assessing. For this reason, coming face to face with them and the stories of their awesome labours at a press conference probably ups the likelihood of a bit of sympathy and a favourable review. On these grounds this morning’s press conference for Never Let Me Go was quite unnecessary. Nevertheless, the event left no doubt as to the film makers’ commitment to the project. One came away with the impression that the film was shot knee-deep in heavily-annotated copies of Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel—the cast and crew either locked in happy embraces or weeping inconsolably, stopping only to shoot the odd scene or bow reverentially to the author.
Never Let Me Go begins at Hailsham, a picturesque boarding school of the 1970s. The scene might seem idyllic, but all is not well. Hailsham’s students are “donors” bred for their bodily organs. With scant hope of living beyond 30, three of them find themselves in a life-changing love triangle. To sensitive Kathy’s (Carey Mulligan’s) dismay, by the time they leave Hailsham for shared accommodation in the countryside, Tommy (Andrew Garfield) and the jealous Ruth (Keira Knightley) are a well-established couple. From other donors they hear a rumour that lovers might be granted a stay of execution, subject to some sort of test, and Kathy and Ruth are forced to re-evaluate both their relationship with Tommy and the prospect of a few more years’ doomed existence.
The story is splendid, an elegant blend of heartbreak and existentialism. The simplest science-fiction plot can easily produce a rampant undergrowth of backstory and expository dialogue, but NLMG keeps these to a bare minimum, leaving the audience’s imagination to fill in the gaps. How did it come to this? Could they have children if they wanted? Why don’t they run away? The film makes only the subtlest concessions to these questions, thus demanding a certain kind of suspended disbelief that skilfully works to bring us into Kathy’s world.
Alex Garland’s adaptation is virtually transparent, and the cast, led by Mulligan’s extremely consistent Kathy, makes a great ensemble. The only weakness is Keira Knightley, whose…