As children, Ruth (Knightley), Kathy (Mulligan) and Tommy (Garfield), spend their childhood at a seemingly idyllic English boarding school. As they grow into young adults, they find that they have to come to terms with the strength of the love they feel for each other, while preparing themselves for the haunting reality that awaits them.
Based on the best-selling book by Kazuo Ishiguro.
In adapting Kazuo Ishiguro's celebrated novel, director Mark Romanek (One Hour Photo
) and screenwriter Alex Garland (Sunshine
) transform dystopian fiction into period drama by presenting an alternate past in which people routinely live beyond 100--at a cost to those who make it possible. In the 1970s, Kathy (Isobel Meikle-Small) and Ruth (Ella Purnell) attend Hailsham, a British boarding school where Miss Emily (Charlotte Rampling) holds sway--and no one ever mentions their parents. When new teacher Miss Lucy (Sally Hawkins, Happy-Go-Lucky
) arrives, she reaches out to the awkward Tommy (Charlie Rowe), with whom Kathy becomes close--until jealous Ruth steals him away. Then Lucy reveals what will happen when they leave. By the 1980s, Kathy (a poignant Carey Mulligan), Ruth (Keira Knightley), and Tommy (Andrew Garfield) live in the country until they're ready to fulfill their purpose. With Ruth and Tommy an item, Kathy becomes a carer, a sort of social worker. Over the years, the three go their separate ways until the 1990s, by which point their time will run out unless they can arrange for a deferral. Throughout, Romanek never presents alternate points of view; the audience experiences this brave new world only through the eyes of its sheltered protagonists. If the story raises issues that recall Orwell, the unhurried pace echoes The Remains of the Day
, Merchant Ivory's Ishiguro adaptation. Similarly, Never Let Me Go
is a work of great skill and compassion, but make no mistake: it's also very, very depressing. --Kathleen C. Fennessy