Britain’s rising acting talent have clubbed together to open this year’s London International Film Festival, writes Russell Webber starting his coverage of the festival for The Film Review, with a quietly affecting, but ultimately flawed, adaptation of the respected Kazuo Ishiguro romantic novel.
Shortlisted for the prestigious Man Booker Prize back in 2005, Never Let Me Go was a stalwart on the bestseller list and it arrives on our screens with a certain amount of expectation having struck a chord with the literary world with its deftly unpretentious prose and gentle tone.
This curiously subdued film regales us with the experiences of Ruth at a seemingly idyllic boarding school, where a love triangle develops that includes her two best friends. As the time scale darts forward into their early adulthood, all three characters must confront their feelings and purpose within the wider world
It may initially sound a familiar premise, but what differentiates this from similar films is the mentioning of ‘donations’ and ‘completion cycles’ by the head teachers that suggests that these children are not quite what they seem. It plays into an interesting combination of genres, part love story, part sci-fi, but to say anything more would lessen its emotional impact, which is potentially pretty hefty if the matinee crowd I watched it with is anything to go by.
Never Let Me Go is most notable as a showcase for British actors. Spearheaded by Carey Mulligan with a mature performance entirely befitting to her character, her work here should help contribute to her deserved rise up the Hollywood A-list. Keira Knightley provides amiable support as her more impressionable best friend, goading sympathy from the audience in a potentially thankless role
Both women are complimented by Andrew Garfield, recently cast as Peter Parker in the upcoming Spiderman reboot, as the object of their affection. Elsewhere Charlotte Rampling and Sally Hawkins appear briefly as two vastly different authoritative figures, and there is even room for a breakout performance by Ella Purnell as the young Ruth, eerily similar to Mulligan in appearance.
Alex Garland has taken on the script-writing duties and uses his background in novels to bring an experienced hand to adapting the material, skillfully editing the more meandering aspects of the dialogue from the source material to suit the dramatic expectations of film.
It is a mostly faithful adaptation retains Ishiguro’s considered mood, however a film must stand alone and there are problems with such a literal approach. In conveniently dividing the story into three time periods to suit a three act structure, Garland loses a sense of momentum that drives the plot. In shortening the opening segment, there is little to empathise with about the profound influence of the boarding school on its naive and suspiciously protected pupils.
The film is also quite flat; the director, Mark Romanek, fails to build on his promise shown in One Hour Photo, perhaps rushed into the project after his bad experience with Universal Pictures as the original helmer of The Wolfman before he ran into creative differences with the studio.
Make no mistake: Never Let Me Go is by no means a multiplex film. The themes of fate and mortality are intriguing in giving it a lasting impression, but the characters’ general blind acceptance of what is in store for them is irritatingly passive and many will leave frustrated at their compliant personalities. Of course, this may be the intention; to query our own reluctance to question the lives we’ve been dealt, but it leaves for a rather cold experience and the romance, whilst undoubtedly tragic doesn’t quite strike the emotional chord that it should.