February 15th 2011

Never Let Me Go

Director: Mark Romanek | Runtime: 103 min

Film review by Lynda Cowell 

There’s something about Keira Knightly’s delicate owl features jutting out of every magazine, cinema screen and billboard across the galaxy that gets people’s backs right up. In fact, mention her to the wrong person and you’ll find yourself wiping the spit off your brow for quite a while. But fortunately for Ms Knightly, she does have a lot of fans, largely in the movie making fraternity, which means that none of us (no matter who we are) are ever more than 6ft away from her haunting gaze.

Knightly’s latest outing comes on the back of Kazuo Ishiguro’s 2005 novel Never Let Me Go – a sci-fi, not-sci-fi, mind-muddling trip into the world of ‘what ifs…’ which provides plenty of food for ethical thoughts. Or not.

It’s 1978, although the drab air of post-war Britain glowers over the place like an air raid threat,  and Ruth (Knightly), Kathy (Carey Mulligan) and Tommy (Andrew Garfield) are holed up in Hailsham, an elite boarding school. So far so good, and familiar territory too, until fifteen minutes elapses without so much as a mention of midnight feasts, fags or families beyond their four walls. It doesn’t take long for the penny to drop that this is no ordinary school.

The pupils of Hailsham are “special”, a fact drilled into them by their starch-backed head mistress (Charlotte Rampling), at every opportunity, but no one knows why. Speculation and rumours run rife around school but it isn’t until a teacher inadvertently reveals the real nature of their so-called gift, that they fully understand what their lives are really about.

Far from rocking their world, the revelation binds Ruth, Kathy and Tommy together in a seemingly unbreakable little trio, until love and sex does the job for them. When Ruth wheedles her way into Tommy’s affections, Kathy – the true love of his life - is relegated to the gooseberry division. When they hit their teen years and Kathy is forced to face up to a life without her one true love, she leaves Ruth and Tommy to their fate in order to make her own way in their limited little world.

Never Let Me Go is the kind of film that you probably won’t have an opinion on even after you’ve seen it, and while it throws up some questions about the nature of the world, you’re still left with more questions than answers. Like why they all accept such life-changing news without question? Instead, they all look a mystified and accept their fate as though they’d just been told that Crackerjack had been taken off air. And even as adults they plod on, doing what they do, without question or a flicker of rage.

It’s a pleasant enough film with some decent enough star-turns but you might be better off reading the book.

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