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Never Let Me Go

February 12, 2011

Never Let Me Go (2010)
Director: Mark Romanek
Actors: Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield, Keira Knightley

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Synopsis: In a Britain of the near-future, clones have a tragic fate awaiting them….

Review: Let me preface this review by declaring that I’ve not read the Kazuo Ishiguro novel on which this film is based, so I’m not interested in Never Let Me Go‘s worth as a piece of literary adaptation. In its own right though, it’s one of the best British films of recent years, surpassing where the similarly intelligent and bookish Atonement failed, in fleshing out a premise rich in ideas and emotional content, but rather than adopting the spectacle and pleading pathos of Atonement, there’s a real stringency of tone and sombreness in Never Let Me Go which is admirable – after all, what caveat can there be in a story which is essentially a metaphor for the all-encompassing spectre of death?

Initially one or two aspects of the narrative did puzzle me, such as with Keira Knightley’s character set up as the malign agent of division for Carey Mulligan and Andrew Garfield’s perfect couple, why is Garfield’s character not made to feel more culpable for his role in that relationship, and why is there no major act of rebellion from the clones, if they are aware of the their short-lived fate? Fortunately, the sheer emotional tow of the film forced me to suspend my disbelief, ‘question not the need’, and accept that it’s a narrative set to raise sentimental and ethical questions rather than have its mechanics unpicked.

Summating all that is good about the film is the work of director, Mark Romanek, who visualises the starkness and heartbreaking sense of transience in the clones’ world so beautifully – from the edenic schoolgrounds of Hailsham, to the sceptic tones of the hospitals and municipal housing where the clones are destined to spend their remaining days. Equally exceptional are the efforts of lead actress Carey Mulligan – drawing the viewer into her character’s psychology as the film’s “conscience” without the usual actorly tricks, showcasing instead a natural ease and empathy. I find something about Mulligan’s voice remarkably authoritative and genuine, and the sequence where she sheds a tear on a country walk with Garfield, is a gorgeous and heartbreaking piece of acting. (February 2011)

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