Written for Spoonfed, London Film Festival 2010
Based on the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go – directed by Mark Romanek – follows three students from the terribly English boarding school that is Hailsham, as they graduate and enter adulthood.
Like most children their age, Kathy (Carey Mulligian), Ruth (Keira Knightley) and Tommy (Andrew Garfield) are learning their strengths and weaknesses and discovering each other. But they also learn from rebellious teacher Lucy – the faultless Sally Hawkins – that their future is cruelly limited.
Ishiguro pushes what we know of medical development in the fifties and sixties to an imagined darker realm in which the students at Hailsham have been created for the sole purpose of organ donation. His characters are burgeoning teens in the late seventies, their physical health of peak importance and the existence of their souls questionable.
By the nineties, the ethics of the programme have spiralled downwards and most schools similar to Hailsham have closed down but the adult donors are still required to give up their vital organs. Pervading the dark social science of it all is a restricting bond that forms in an unsettlingly youthful love triangle.
Alex Garland, author of The Beach, has constructed a quiet but piercing screenplay in which Tommy and Kathy’s knot-tight bond lurks beneath Ruth’s consuming desperation. He weaves in answers to the audience’s questions, cunningly placing hope and disappointment.
Thankfully, Knightley plays the thoroughly dislikeable Ruth and we’re not asked to sympathise with her. Andrew Garfield will bring a smile to most faces as the innocent and slightly angsty teen who has the misfortune of dating Ruth. His story is intrinsically weaved with Mulligan’s pained longing.
Romanek’s detailed eye for colour shows us how mean it is to make school kids wear grey, particularly when contrasted with his breezy, bright scenes of English summertime. He teases out cruelty from an idyll, at times subtly and occasionally with a stark, grey bluntness. His beautiful scenes encourage Rachel Portman’s original score to makes its way to the foreground where it reflects the control, order and repetition of the characters’ lives, whilst also allowing a wistful glimmer of personality to come through.
A fantastic adaptation of the novel, Never Let Me Go is superbly acted and thanks to Mulligan, emotionally exhausting.