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Never Let Me Go

Never Let Me Go

By Jack Murphy • May 3rd, 2012
Static Mass Rating: 4/5
NEVER LET ME GO (Blu-ray)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Release date: June 27th 2011
Certificate (UK): 12
Running time: 99 minutes

Director: Mark Romanek
Writers: Kazuo Ishiguro (novel), Alex Garland (screenplay)

Cast: Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield, Keira Knightley

In a world where people are bred for the sole purpose of providing organ donations, three friends live out their lives from childhood to adulthood, exactly as they are made to.

They go to school in Hailsham, one of many schools that raise these special children; their sheltered education teaches them basic truths about the world. As they grow older, they either donate their organs or care for those that do – in the end they all donate.

The story follows Kathy H (Carey Mulligan), Ruth (Keira Knightley) and Tommy D (Andrew Garfield), children who all become friends at school, then as Ruth and Tommy become closer, Kathy is slowly pushed out of the picture. Later on in life when Ruth and Tommy are estranged donors, Kathy, who has trained to be a carer, looks after them and learns more about herself and her friends.

Never Let Me Go

It’s not quite as good as the book. Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way I can focus on the comparisons between the book and the film because that’s where the real value in the film is. Never Let Me Go does fall into some of the typical pitfalls of a book to film – story edits, lack of subtlety, differing artistic vision – but the core ideas are retained and, in some cases, pushed further than the book ever did.

Where the film surpasses the book is in its normality. The premise the story is based on is so interesting and controversial, but both the book and the film really send the message across by having it accepted as normal part of life.

In other films, such as The Island (2005), the world is in the dark about the organ donors and it’s a big shock when everyone finds out what is going on. In Never Let Me Go, everyone knows and just brushes it under the carpet.

Never Let Me Go

That’s where the real shock-factor is for the film; we see three young children turn into adults that make the most of their lives and although they push against their destiny, they are very accepting of how the world is for them. Where there are more challenges to this in the book – such as Miss Lucy – the film just lets it happen. They openly understand what they are made to do and that is the end of it.

The film takes that normality and pokes fun at it as well. You first see them training as children to understand how to interact with people in a cafe, and then see where it gets them later on in life. It’s a moment where their innocence, and ignorance, to the world is exposed and their vulnerability is almost laughable. Although they appear to be adults they are still children in their understanding of the world.

Never Let Me Go

A key element of the success of this film is that it is based on the very well written novel by Ishiguro, and the screenplay was then written by English novelist Alex Garland. As such, that very English story of the boarding school and beyond is kept close at heart; the whole style and the characters feel very genuine. It could have easily been a Hollywood remake set in L.A. with lasers and action scenes, but it was as understated and British as the novel.

Where Garland developed the story is in the relationship between Kathy and Tommy. In the novel there is little tension between Kathy and Tommy, resulting in a strange but heart-warming ending. Whereas in Garland’s script and Romanek’s directing, there are several hints towards the romantic undertones of their relationship, and this worked so well that the latter part of the film made more sense than the novel did.

The driving force behind this script was the acting and the three lead roles of the story all have a chemistry which ties them together, with due credit to Romanek’s directing. Mulligan and Knightly have a great intimacy which is established by their young counterparts Izzy Meikle-Small and Ella Purnell, respectively, in the earlier part of the film. The more touching scenes of the film come later on when Kathy is the carer to Ruth, and they reconcile their differences from their childhood. Mulligan is particularly striking as Kathy; her tenderness as a carer and her frustration at Ruth come together to create a loving and complicated character.

Never Let Me Go

Garfield plays Tommy with such innocence that there is a wonderful blur between his childhood and adulthood.

As they discuss in the bonus feature ‘The Secrets of Never Let Me Go’, the scream was a very challenging part of the role for Garfield and his child counterpart Charlie Rowe, and when they compare the screams it is clear to see the transition from the child to the adult Tommy.

Never Let Me Go is a film that builds on many of the interesting elements of the book, and gives it a unique reading which differentiates itself from Ishiguro’s original story. The bonus features open up these differences with interviews from the actors, writers, director and Ishiguro himself. It is the contrast between the book and film which is a fun part of the film, but at the heart of it, Never Let Me Go is essentially a very good film in its own right.

Jack Murphy

Jack Murphy

Jack is an English Literature student in his early Twenties (The Golden Age!) at the University of Leeds. He insists on saying that he’s originally from Slough, Berkshire which is the setting of Ricky Gervais’ comedy series The Office – and not a day goes by that he’s not reminded of that fact… Irrespective of being mocked for it, Jack still is, and will most likely remain, a big Gervais fan.

And he sure knows how to spend his time. Having subscribed to a well known DVD delivery service for the past three years, Jack spends half of his days watching DVDs – and the other half on catch-up websites watching TV programmes.

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