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Reviews
STAR RATINGS EXPLAINED
Unmissable 5 Stars
Excellent 4 Stars
Good 3 Stars
Poor 2 Stars
Tragic 1 Star

FILM DETAILS
Certificate
12A
Cast
Keira Knightley
Charlotte Rampling
Sally Hawkins
Carey Mulligan
Isobel Meikle-Small
Charlie Rowe
Ella Purnell.
Directors
Mark Romanek.
Screenwriters
Alex Garland.
Running Time
104 minutes

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Never Let Me Go
Haunting, harrowing, heartfelt


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Plot
Kathy H. (Mulligan) is a woman looking back on her life, from her childhood days at Hailsham boarding school with best friends Ruth (Purnell/Knightley) and Tommy (Rowe/Garfield). Like all the other Hailsham pupils, the three have a very particular destiny — one which, together, they slowly grow to understand, and struggle to accept.


Review
Never Let Me Go
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Is it a spoiler to be told which genre — however broadly defined — a story resides? If you think it is, then it’s probably best you skip to the star rating. Otherwise…

The shortlisting of Kazuo Ishiguro’s 2005 novel Never Let Me Go for the Arthur C. Clarke Award provides a signpost (flashing, ice-blue neon, levitating mysteriously) that the book belongs to the sci-fi genre. Yet there’s nothing in the title, nor on the jacket, nor even in the back-page plot synopsis that suggests anything other than a coming-of-age romance, albeit one set in a darkly smudged version of mid-to-late 20th-century England. The narrative itself — delivered with truthful imperfection by one Kathy H. (Carey Mulligan) — offers no sense that anything is out of the ordinary (as indeed it isn’t, for the narrator), so its ‘true’ nature isn’t so much delivered in a shock twist as gradually, unintentionally revealed (by the character), like watching a disturbing Polaroid develop while held gingerly in your hands.

The same is true of this excellent film adaptation, scripted by Alex Garland (who, after 28 Days Later and Sunshine, is himself no stranger to sci-fi) and visualised by Mark Romanek, who has previously dealt with disturbing slow-developments in One Hour Photo. However, it is fair to describe their take on Never Let Me Go as ‘sci-fied up’ — which isn’t to say they’ve relocated Kathy H. to an orbital space-factory, or have her whizz over to Norfolk in a sky-skimming Spinner. Romanek keeps the look distinctly British and 20th century-mundane: cloud-shadowed beaches sloping out to brown-grey sea; triple-varnished, wood-floored assembly halls echoing with the squeaks of V-neck-jumpered schoolchildren; rain-dank teenagers slouching around hedge-rowed countryside in mud-slopped wellies. Period-wise, it’s effectively non-specific; on the surface this looks like a story which stretches from the 1950s to the ’90s, while only really spanning around 20 years.

Yet right at the opening Garland informs us of a major medical breakthrough occuring during the 1960s which has dramatically extended human life-expectancy. Up front we know this is not our world. And there are other little signifiers, not only in Ishiguro’s deceptively soft terminology (“carer”, “donor”, “completion”), but also in a neat addition from Garland which shows each of the Hailsham students wearing a wrist tag that they use to register their entry and exit to and from the building — a device they chillingly retain even after reaching adulthood.

It is spoiling nothing to say that Kathy and her friends Tommy (Andrew Garfield) and Ruth (Keira Knightley) are trapped. Yet it is to Ishiguro’s eternal credit that his exploration of how they deal with their entrapment does not precipitate some kind of searchlight-blinded action-adventure. This is hardly Logan’s Run. This is a character-driven drama, and Garland and Romanek faithfully keep it so. The idea of ‘escape’ doesn’t even occur to the protagonists; merely a desire to delay the inevitable. They are, like any of us, very much the product of their environment — more so, in fact — and just normal people at that (‘normal’, of course, being one of the most conveniently malleable of adjectives), so it’s not even relevant to bring up the broader moral ramifications of their situation, or for them to challenge its justness. There are deeper, more personal things at stake. Which is why Never Let Me Go is such a profoundly sad story.

Yes, what we essentially have here is a sci-fi weepie. And the fact that it works so bittersweetly is down not so much to Garland’s tender treatment of the concept as it is the casting of the main characters and the performances of Mulligan, Knightley and Garfield.

Off the page there was always the danger that Kathy H. could prove frosty and impassive. But Mulligan finds the warmth in Ishiguro’s creation and makes sure she glows on the screen. Somehow she conveys a sense of worldweariness from a person who has seen hardly anything of the world; a feeling of fierce passion from someone who has never known how to show it. Knightley, meanwhile, handles the lesser, and less sympathetic, role of Ruth well, with a sharpness that in other hands might be mistaken for shrewishness, and a selfishness that feels less like sheer meanness than an understandable defence mechanism. And between them — for this is a love triangle — is Garfield, perfectly capturing Tommy’s appealing awkwardness and tentative curiosity, a boy (and man) desperately trying to find the meaning in his inner life and somehow channel the power he believes there might be in emotional expression.

The outcome of their romantic entanglement, and their existential quandry, is heart-rending and distressing. And possibly, for some, frustrating. But it does leave you throbbing with all those big, troubling questions about what it really means to live.


Verdict
A beautifully realised adaptation of a profoundly affecting novel. Intelligent sci-fi provides the backdrop, while in the foreground is a trio of truly impressive performances from Mulligan, Knightley and Garfield.


Reviewed by Dan Jolin

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Your Reviews

Average user rating for Never Let Me Go
Empire Star Rating

RE: 5/5

A Brilliant film with three excellent performances from Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield and Keira Knightley. 5/5 ... More

Posted by NCC1701A at 09:08, 03 March 2013 | Report This Post


5/5

Brilliant piece of work. For all vulnerable types. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by bereski at 08:46, 09 June 2012 | Report This Post


RE: Never Let Me Go

I loved this. I was very surpised given the subject matter,but i found it sumptuous,engaging and tragically beautiful. It is painfully enchanting with great performances all round. ... More

Posted by thetruth at 22:47, 25 September 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Never Let Me Go

I finally got round to seeing this today, and even though there are many things to like about this film (the enchanting Carey Mulligan, two very solid performances from Andrew Garfield and Keira Knightley, the cinematography, Sally Hawkins crushing it in her 10 minutes of screen-time), it never really engages the heart as much as it should do. I can understand Mark Romanek not wanting to drown the movie in treacle, but I was never really moved by it. Also - not a great deal actually happen... More

Posted by MonsterCat at 19:30, 25 September 2011 | Report This Post


overrated (slightly)!

would give this three stars......great performances (especially by garfield)... ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by chrisdagnall at 20:55, 18 July 2011 | Report This Post


SPOILERS You Have Been Warned

I thought this film was rather sad, they seem to accept their fate without any notion of escaping or at least wanting to not be a donor or wanting to grow old and die or have a real life. It's like they've been conditioned to accept this one assumes they're trapped wrist bands! Are they completely human? Later in the story there is talk of Hailsham being closed and the clones being reared in battery farm conditions. The mind boggles. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Bighousewill at 17:35, 10 July 2011 | Report This Post


Never Let Me Watch

Never have I seen such a well directed and acted film which is so tedious to watch. The entire premise of this film too far fetched to be able to base an emotional drama upon it. Never let me go is a film which asks us to invest in the emotions of characters going through experiences caused by a situation which is utterly implausible. A far fetched notion can work in many genres but not in emotional dramas which require a viewer to relate to the characters. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by theweemannie at 00:57, 04 July 2011 | Report This Post


An absolutely sublime piece of film-making from director Mark Romanek. Never Let Me Go tells the story of three childhood friends played by Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield and Keira Knightley in three specific periods of their upbringing, during and after their time at a seemingly idyllic prep school. From the outset the film makes it very clear that the reasons for the characters' very existence has its roots in classic science fiction however the film never panders to this aspect and instead f... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Biggus at 23:09, 24 June 2011 | Report This Post


Just Beautiful

Never Let Me Go was one of the most painfully beautiful (or beautifully painful) movies I have ever seen. I cried throughout the second half and for around an hour afterwards. All of the performances were stunning, Mulligan and Garfield in particular, and the cinematography was simply beautiful. There were so many scenes - in particular the washed up boat - which could have been painted, they were that beautiful. Having not read the book, I was pleased that this was a movie which did not pre... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by poppyxxx at 15:21, 07 March 2011 | Report This Post


Incredibly Sad

I thought the film was excellent, particularly the performances by Mulligan and Garfield (not so keen on Knightley but she was suitably bitchy) and the ending stayed with me long after the film finished. For me it has definitely taken up the mantle of the saddest film I have ever seen, I look forward to reading the book as I'm sure it will pack even more of an emotional punch than the film. Don't know if I could watch it again as it was pretty upsetting but thought-provoking all the same. Certai... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by MissOrange at 13:17, 06 March 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Never Let Me Go

L: theoriginalcynic What part does Ellen play in the film? lmao.  one thankfully. ... More

Posted by vad3r at 01:54, 24 February 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Never Let Me Go

What part does Ellen play in the film? lmao.  ... More

Posted by theoriginalcynic at 01:27, 24 February 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Never Let Me Go

Yes they are, but you said nothing on the film or how they acted here, instead went about on BSG and their performances in other films, same with cynic with his tiring "OMG BSG IS SOOOOOO SLOW" comments. So yes, this is still derailing the thread.   ... More

Posted by Deviation at 21:10, 23 February 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Never Let Me Go

L: Deviation Derailing this thread with pointless bickering that has little to do with the actual film.  he two actresses I'm talking about are in this actual film. ... More

Posted by vad3r at 20:49, 23 February 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Never Let Me Go

Derailing this thread with pointless bickering that has little to do with the actual film.  ... More

Posted by Deviation at 19:31, 23 February 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Never Let Me Go

L: Deviation Stop this. top what? ... More

Posted by vad3r at 18:42, 23 February 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Never Let Me Go

Stop this. ... More

Posted by Deviation at 18:23, 23 February 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Never Let Me Go

L: theoriginalcynic L: Deviation L: theoriginalcynic L: vad3r Carey Mulligan is the most boring and annoying (well it's hard to beat Ellen Page) actress around. How she finds work with her pouty Keira Knightly attitude and dull as dishwater roles is beyond me. Roll on the next period costume drama. oming from the Battlestar Galactica fan...watching paint dry comes to mind.  Both Carey and Ellen are great actresses, see Juno and An Education respectively. ha... More

Posted by vad3r at 18:20, 23 February 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Never Let Me Go

But BSG has nothing to do with NLMG, aside from having an alternate history of sorts and that both can be pretty slow and depressing.  ... More

Posted by Deviation at 14:46, 23 February 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Never Let Me Go

L: Deviation L: theoriginalcynic L: vad3r Carey Mulligan is the most boring and annoying (well it's hard to beat Ellen Page) actress around. How she finds work with her pouty Keira Knightly attitude and dull as dishwater roles is beyond me. Roll on the next period costume drama. oming from the Battlestar Galactica fan...watching paint dry comes to mind.  Both Carey and Ellen are great actresses, see Juno and An Education respectively. hat does BSG have to do wi... More

Posted by theoriginalcynic at 09:45, 23 February 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Never Let Me Go

Carey Mulligan & Ellen Page = great Battlestar Galactica = great Not really sure why there's a debate here at all... ... More

Posted by Qwerty Norris at 05:32, 23 February 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Never Let Me Go

L: theoriginalcynic L: vad3r Carey Mulligan is the most boring and annoying (well it's hard to beat Ellen Page) actress around. How she finds work with her pouty Keira Knightly attitude and dull as dishwater roles is beyond me. Roll on the next period costume drama. oming from the Battlestar Galactica fan...watching paint dry comes to mind.  Both Carey and Ellen are great actresses, see Juno and An Education respectively. hat does BSG have to do with anything? (... More

Posted by Deviation at 03:44, 23 February 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Never Let Me Go

L: vad3r Carey Mulligan is the most boring and annoying (well it's hard to beat Ellen Page) actress around. How she finds work with her pouty Keira Knightly attitude and dull as dishwater roles is beyond me. Roll on the next period costume drama. oming from the Battlestar Galactica fan...watching paint dry comes to mind.  Both Carey and Ellen are great actresses, see Juno and An Education respectively. ... More

Posted by theoriginalcynic at 22:32, 22 February 2011 | Report This Post


It's a testament to how much I loved the film that I'm slightly annoyed Empire only gave it four stars. Just one of the best films I've ever seen. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by MartinHeron at 04:28, 22 February 2011 | Report This Post


Wow!

What a film! When the credits rolled, everyone in the cinema just sat there, taking everything in. The story nicely unravelled, hitting you in small steps rather than a big twists. Andrew Garfield and Carey Mulligan were awesome, some of the best acting I've seen in years! They both have a great career ahead of them. The only slight negative is the scene near the end, which is also the opening scene. I guessed what was going to happen, and as I had already been close to tears a few minutes bef... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by flyaninnocentlife at 19:43, 17 February 2011 | Report This Post


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