Kazuo Ishiguro, author of the novel ‘Never Let Me Go’, urged viewers at a recent screening of the film adaptation: “If you’ve read the book, try and forget it.” But if you haven’t read the book and know nothing about it, be prepared for something far stranger than the glam red carpet appearances of its stars Carey Mulligan and Keira Knightley suggest.
It’s a “mild sci-fi” that follows Kathy (Carey Mulligan), Ruth (Keira Knightley) and Tommy (Andrew Garfield), starting out at Hailsham, their strict but seemingly idyllic prep school where kids play in extensive grounds and look healthy and happy. But a sense of unease creeps in when staff start to test the weights, heart rates and pulses of the pupils. After a period of curious suspense, it’s revealed that they’re all on a National Donor Programme, being primed to care for sick people before finally donating their organs, losing their own lives in the process. A sad nobility hangs over the youngsters, but whilst they’re religiously dutiful to their cause, they’re still prone to human failings and feelings. A suppressed rivalry between Kathy and Ruth over the affections of Tommy bubbles over with a bitchy exchange at a kitchen sink, then again in bedroom darkness, with Mulligan arch and critical in the first and Knightley potent and chilling in the latter.
For what is essentially a blockbuster – it’s a Fox Searchlight production, with big British stars and a screenwriter in The Beach’s Alex Garland – Never Let Me Go still manages to feel art house in its bleakness. The grim colours – pea green furniture, granite houses and grey skies – only add to the oppression. Audiences in America were puzzled that the kids don’t run away the moment they discover they’re donors, but Ishiguro says this isn’t just another film about the triumph of the human spirit, but that we’re all far too addicted to the escape story and, sad though it is, people rarely break out of bad marriages, unfulfilling jobs or toxic friendships. All hail Hailsham and the new bleak blockbuster!
Never Let Me Go is released in the UK 11th February.