From US director Mark Romanek comes a film that dares to explore an age-old truism: is it really better to have loved, and lost, than to have never loved at all?

In Never Let Me Go, Kathy, Tommy and Ruth are three unlikely friends, growing up together at Hailsham, what appears to be a run-of-the-mill, starchy English Boarding School in the 1970s. But this is 70s England with a difference. In this alternate reality, science has progressed to a greater degree, meaning that ailments once considered fatal can now be prevented – but at a very human cost. The three youngsters experience the ultimate coming-of-age when they begin to realise that their lives have been planned out for them, and that the love stories that may play out between them cannot possibly have a happy ending.

An adaptation of a novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, this film is thematically complex. It’s a romantic tragedy pitted against a backdrop of science fiction elements, which do not affect the tone but merely add a degree of emotional complexity to the story. In the leading role as adult Kathy, Carey Mulligan (An EducationWall Street 2) shines; there’s something about her childlike vulnerability that deeply resonates with the themes of exploitation and loss. The Social Network‘s Andrew Garfield puts in a solid turn as the sensitive but unpredictable Tommy, and in the role of Ruth, established screen queen Keira Knightley (Pirates of the CaribbeanPride and Prejudice) manages to negotiate a deeply-flawed character with consummate poise. The cinematography and art direction are subtle but elegant, and there is a sense of fluidity and poetry discernible in the assembly of each scene. While it might seem a far cry from the music documentaries and video clips that litter Romanek’s CV, it is no less carefully choreographed and put together. In a superb casting feat, the three child actors (Isobel Meikle-Small, Charlie Rowe and Ella Purnell) all give credible performances and bear physical resemblance to their adult counterparts that is, particularly in the case of Meikle-Small and Mulligan, uncanny.

As the idea of lost love is such a relatable one, the sci-fi elements of the characters’ world don’t seem at all outlandish, and eventually become eclipsed by the human tragedy at play. In fact, while they do add to the dramatic stakes, one might wonder if they are even necessary at all. The film also suffers slightly in its final moments, as the tight ending does not really do justice to the emotional rollercoaster that precedes it. All in all, however, it’s a solid and stylish tear-jerker which will have you thinking about the future for humankind.

First posted on Movie Nation: April 20th, 2011

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