Kathy, a young woman in her early thirties, recalls her childhood years growing up with her friends Ruth and Tommy at Hailsham, an idyllic-seeming English boarding school. The Hailsham regime taught its pupils to believe they were special, encouraging creativity, sporting activity and a healthy lifestyle, reinforced by regular medical checks. The children were sheltered from the outside world, and afraid of what lay beyond the school gates, though this had little impact on their day-to-day happiness. But as they grew older, they learned that a dark secret hung over their future. And for Kathy, Ruth and Tommy came the discovery of deep feelings of love, jealousy and betrayal that threatened to pull them apart.
Based on Kazuo Ishiguro’s acclaimed best-selling novel, Never Let Me Go is a haunting story of love and loss. Adapted for the screen by Alex Garland and directed by Mark Romanek (One Hour Photo), it is beautifully filmed, using a palette of subtle tones that reinforces the sense of strangeness that permeates the character’s lives. We’re watching a place and time that seem familiar, yet somehow off-kilter. The children look like normal children, but they don’t quite act like them, and their relationships have a slightly unworldly air, even if in Kathy’s case her feelings are all too real.
The impeccable casting of Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley and Andrew Garfield as the older Kathy, Ruth and Tommy is rewarded by outstanding performances from all three, matched by those of Izzy Meikle-Small, Ella Purnell and Charlie Rowe as their younger selves. Strong support comes from a cast that also includes Charlotte Rampling, Sally Hawkins and Andrea Riseborough.
Mark Romanek’s direction is as assured as it is discreet, never overpowering the delicate, eerie qualities of the original material. There are sensitively handled sci-fi elements, but Garland and Romanek hold the focus firmly on the friends and their relationship, to intriguing and emotionally devastating effect. –BFI