Never Let Me Go (Mark Romanek, 2010)

20Feb11

Carey Mulligan (Kathy), Andrew Garfield (Tommy), Keira Knightley (Ruth), Sally Hawkins (Miss Lucy). Screenplay by Alex Garland. Directed by Mark Romanek. Rating: 12. Running time: 103 minutes.

Never Let Me Go is a film shamelessly conscious of its own melodrama, but it is also a film totally justified in amplifying the tragedy of its subject matter all out of proportion. One quick listen to the soundtrack and hearing of the contemplative voiceovers and immediately it is clear that this intends to be highly serious stuff, and in so many ways does it succeed. The cast is worthy of a shower of praise yet to come crashing down upon it in any shape or form: Carey Mulligan is magical. She’s Britain’s next Kate Winslet, proof of which can be found if you need it not only here in ample volume, but also no doubt in two of her forthcoming projects: Sam Mendes’ adaptation of On Chesil Beach and Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby. Garfield is also impressive, providing 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: create ‘people,’ realistically intended to be machines, which 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 human powers 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; their knowledge of their fate, and internal battle between trained passivity and frustrated resistance. Their troublesome emotions, which they were never supposed to feel.

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

Britain, in particular Brighton, looks perfect here. A suitably quiet but picturesque setting around which to hang this story. Equally marvellous is the screenplay, which is hardly noticeable, but one soon realises that is its chief virtue: so easily could this slip into fantastical, unbelievable soppiness that the subtle credibility of the lines that the cast gets to deliver shows just how well it has been written. Only the final lines from Kathy stand out, but again, their level of reflection is perfect, and delivered by Mulligan to leave the impression of possessing the utmost sincerity.

I’m unsure how this one has slipped under the Awards radar. It is not game changing, unlike a handful of films that are, of course, admittedly worthy of special attention this year. But as a piece of pure, stylised compelling drama, Never Let Me Go is easily up there with Blue Valentine as film of the year. If The Kids Are All Right is worthy of Oscar attention, it is unclear how this magnificent film isn’t too.

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