In a countryside boarding school named Hailsham, three children – Kathy, Tommy and Ruth – form a triangle of love and jealousy that they will continue to navigate many years later, long after they realise their tragic fates. Such are the beginnings of Never Let Me Go, an adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s acclaimed novel directed by Mark Romanek (One-Hour Photo). A visually arresting mood piece that unfortunately doesn’t deliver the devastating punch its plot desperately craves.
Carey Mulligan (An Education), Andrew Garfield (The Social Network) and Keira Knightley (Pride & Prejudice) star as the adult Kathy, Tommy and Ruth upon their graduation into the real world. Their lives are unfortunately pre-ordained, as designed by Hailsham’s headmistress Miss Emily (Charlotte Rampling, Swimming Pool). To spoil the secrets of their lives for those who haven’t read Ishiguro’s novel – hailed as “the best novel of the decade” by Time – would be shameful, but it’s to Romanek’s credit that he doesn’t tease the audience with it, turning it into a cheap gimmick. Romanek’s credit ends there, however.
Dealing with themes of mortality and the evil that people do, Never Let Me Go never quite hits the bullseye of what it wants to say. By the time the biggest tragedy of all unfolds, it felt as if too little time of too little significance had been spent with these characters and their bond not fully realised. There’s a big difference between asking audiences to fill in the gaps and lazily expecting them to write entire chapters.
I suspect that Romanek let the creation of mood get the better of him. Never Let Me Go is a very handsome production, with cinematography by Adam Kimmel acting as an ode to the colours sea-green and brown; I don’t think there’s a single frame, costume or set that isn’t somehow awash in these colours. The skies are filled with constant rolling beige clouds. Atmosphere, there is plenty, but what for? The actors, too, are sublime. Mulligan and Garfield continue to make the most of the opportunities coming their way in their burgeoning careers while Keira Knightley lets the plum in her mouth do the talking and walks away with best in film honours for her brittle, seething performance. She is so filled with dangerous resentment that admitting her wrongdoings could literally shatter her fragile body.
Never Let Me Go is such a curiously muted viewing experience. Everything is there for a three-tissue weepie, but it never quite comes together. Mark Romanek is an expert of the music video craft – Michael and Janet Jackson’s “Scream” and Johnny Cash’s “Hurt” being his most famous – but the emotional depth required here is sadly lacking, lost in adaptation.
(Warning: Trailer contains spoilers)
Never Let Me Go is released on March 31st
Director: Mark Romanek
Cast: Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield, Keira Knightley, Charlotte Rampling, Sally Hawkins,
Isobel Meikle-Small, Charlie Rowe, Ella Purnell, Domhall Gleeson and Andrea Riseborough