Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Mark Romanek

Stars: Keira Knightley, Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield, Isobel Meikle-Small, Charlie Rowe, Ella Purnell, Charlotte Rampling, Sally Hawkins.

At first glance the rustic Hailsham seems like a typically privileged English boarding school, where orphaned students are raised by strict teachers and prepared for their future. But as we quickly learn, Hailsham has a far more sinister plan for its alumni. A few decades ago, scientists cured all diseases and developed a way to extend the human life span beyond 100 years. Scientists created a generation of clones whose sole purpose is to donate organs. Hailsham’s students are being raised in a hermetic environment to become perfectly healthy donors, whose organs will be systematically harvested to enable the wealthy to live longer and healthier lives. Some students will become carers, whose task it is to provide for the physical and mental well being of the donors.

We first meet three friends Ruth (Ella Purnell), Kathy (Isobel Meikle-Small) and the timid Tommy (Charlie Rowe) as youngsters at the school, who are at first unaware of what is in store for them when they reach adolescence. But as adults Tommy (Andrew Garfield) and his friend Kathy (Carey Mulligan, from An Education, etc) soon learn there is no escaping from their destiny.

A combination of romantic drama and high concept science fiction, the film is based on the acclaimed novel written by Kazuo Ishiguro, who also wrote The Remains Of The Day, which was adapted into a visually sumptuous film by Merchant Ivory. Never Let Me Go is a dystopian parable of a brave new world and set in an alternative past, and it is a world that is not immediately recogniseable. Screenwriter Alex Garland (The Beach, etc) remains faithful to both the sombre tone and the central premise of Ishiguro’s profound but depressing novel and its themes of longing, passion, love, destiny and mortality.

We’ve had other films that have dealt with the theme of harvesting organs, most recently and graphically the straight to DVD thriller Turistas. But the theme has also driven Michael Bay’s big budget action thriller The Island, and it was the central concept behind Michael Crichton’s suspenseful medical thriller Coma, adapted from a novel written by fellow doctor Robin Cook.

This is a far more subtle treatment of the theme, and director Mark Romanek brings a suitably melancholic tone to the material. A former director of music videos, Romanek previously turned Robin Williams into a creepy psychopath in One Hour Photo, but here he directs with a remarkable sense of restraint and creates an emotionally distant mood piece that echoes the source’s contemplative style. His restraint effectively mutes the very real horror that lies just beneath the surface.

Kiera Knightley does well as the manipulative Ruth, the least sympathetic character here, as her jealousy and naked need for acceptance shapes her actions. She imbues her character with a painful fragility. Garfield (from The Social Network, the new Spiderman) brings emotional depth to his character, while Mulligan’s intelligent and empathetic performance as Kathy, who also acts as the film’s narrator, grounds the film. Charlotte Rampling is suitably haughty in her small but effective role as Hailsham’s imperious head mistress, while Sally Hawkins tempers her usual ebullience as a school teacher who desperately wants to tell her charges the bitter truth about their existence. The three young actors bear an eerie resemblance to their older counterparts.

Technically the film is ravishing to look at. Adam Kimmels’ cinematography is suitably chilling, while Rachel Portman’s violin driven score adds to the sad tone that permeates this quietly disturbing film.



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