Never Let Me Go: Responses


Cherwell writers Matt Isard and Jacob Williamson respond to our initial Never Let Me Go review (

Matt Isard on Never Let Me Go
Production companies 20th Century Fox, DNA and Film4 have recently taken on the difficult task of adapting a popular and highly acclaimed novel. This is always a challenge, but when your source material is Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go – named one of the twenty greatest novels of the decade by The Telegraph – the task is made even harder. However, with the help of some great young British talent and a team clearly passionate about the story, director Mark Romanek has managed to pull it off.
The film, like the book, is broken up into three acts, each one set at different times at the end of the 20th Century on an alternate timeline; before you make any wrong assumptions this not a sci-fi movie with space ships and chrome, but a sci-fi fable set in the English countryside. The science-fiction that is a crucial part of the story is simply used as a metaphor for the message the film is trying to put across. The first part takes place in Hailsham boarding school where we meet the three central characters, Kathy, Ruth and Tommy, as children; played by Isobel Meikle-Small, Charlie Rowe and Ella Purnell, who carry the film for the first third. All three are incredibly engaging and each give phenomenally mature performances. In the second two parts the adult cast of Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield and Keira Knightley are used as the more grown-up dynamics of duty, jealousy, love and despair are brought in and they move nearer to their ‘completion’.

Ultimately the story deals with the issue of growing up and realising how fleeting life truly is. It seems we only have a second or two with the ones we love before it is all over. With watches and clocks in almost every scene the audience are constantly reminded how short life can be, especially for the poor students from Hailsham. This message is also made more tragic by having us watch young people grappling with ideas that they would not normally be expected to confront before they are 80-years old. Don’t go into the film expecting a rom-com, but this bleak drama is touching.

In order to work, the film relies on the love triangle that forms between Kathy, Ruth and Tommy so it was a great move to get such remarkable young British actors involved. Both Garfield and Mulligan show that they are worthy of the term ‘rising star’. Garfield’s performance has great passion and one of his scenes later on in the film will break your heart and send shivers up your spine. Mulligan gives a much more reserved performance that perfectly fits with her character Kathy who on the surface may seem to accept her fate, but is struggling against it just as the others are. The two have an endearing, understated chemistry that makes their relationship seem real and believable. Knightley is also exceptional as Ruth, the girl initially gets in the way of the love between Kathy and Tommy. With Never Let Me Go she adds to her range of literary roles by this time playing the unlikeable character and it is greatly to her credit that she can make the audience sympathise and pity Ruth by the end.

Not only are the actors beautiful to watch but the scenery surrounding them is equally stunning. With the film being shot all over England, Romanek captures some beautiful images of the countryside such as Holkham Beach and Clevedon Pier. To give the film an extra feel of strangeness the visual palette was made completely devoid of primary colours, leaving behind only muted browns, greens and blues. The purpose of this was clearly to add to the atmosphere, but it also makes the visuals very dreary. Although the fate of the characters is not explained right away there are enough clues for most to guess what will happen and this predictability, along with the slow pace of the film and subdued colour palette, might bore some viewers and prevent them from grasping the overall meaning that Romanek is trying to put across. However, these elements are also what makes the movie effective. It tugs subtly at our emotions and the fact that Romanek avoids using obvious tear jerking motifs or crowd pleasers is to his credit.

The film sticks very closely to both the original message and dialogue of Ishiguro’s book. For some people, it will not strike the right chord, but for others it will be a delightful and haunting watch. Thanks to the superb acting of the leads and the layered source material, the experience will stick with you long after the film has ended.

Jacob Williamson on Never Let Me Go

Never Let Me Go is a film shamelessly conscious of its own melodrama, but it is justified in amplifying the tragedy of its subject matter seemingly out of proportion. One quick listen to the soundtrack and the contemplative voiceovers makes it clear that this intends to be highly serious stuff and it succeeds on so many levels. The cast is worthy of a shower of praise which has not yet been forthcoming: Carey Mulligan is magical. She’s Britain’s next Kate Winslet, ample proof of which can be found here with no doubt more to come in two of her forthcoming projects: Sam Mendes’s adaptation of On Chesil Beach and Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby. Garfield is also impressive, providing here a stunning contrast with his performance as Eduardo Saverin in The Social Network. And Keira Knightley. For so long she has failed to impress me, but here she has finally found a role seemingly made for her.

I feel obliged to share the premise, if only because of its profundity: with the rise of cloning technology, Britain apparently has a solution to its shortage of organ donors and this consists in creating ‘people’, realistically intended to be machines, who will grow up to give away their hearts and lungs before duly dying in their twenties. All three of our main characters are such objects of manipulation. And yet they are, despite social intentions, not mindless robots. No amount of genetic engineering can apparently strip away the human propensity to be artistic, to feel and to love. One can sense the sources of drama immediately: the sheltered upbringing that makes them unsure of their nature, the knowledge of their fate and the internal battle between trained passivity and frustrated resistance. Above all, dramatic momentum arises from their troublesome emotions, which they were never supposed to feel.

All of this reaches its peak in the film’s final scenes: rumours have abounded that donors could seek ‘deferments’, being allowed to live for a few years past their prime if they have happened to fall in love. Tommy and Kathy (Garfield and Mulligan) desperately attempt to take advantage of the provision, but its mythical nature soon becomes apparent. He can show his old schoolmasters as much artwork as he wishes as proof of a soul, this won’t change the demands of the overpowering, invisible ‘general public’.

Britain looks perfect here. Quiet and picturesque. Equally marvellous is the screenplay, which is hardly noticeable, but one soon realises that this is its chief virtue: so easily could this slip into fantastical, unbelievable soppiness that the subtle credibility of the dialogue shows just how carefully it has been written. Only the final lines from Kathy stand out but their level of reflection is perfect and delivered by Mulligan with the impression of absolute sincerity.

I’m unsure how this one has slipped under the radar this Awards Season. It is not game-changing but as a piece of compelling stylised drama, Never Let Me Go is easily up there with Blue Valentine as film of the year.



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