Image: 20th Century Fox
Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy are children at Hailsham, which appears to be a prestigious boarding school in England. They are told by the headmistress (Charlotte Rampling) that they are special. Their movements are monitored, and they are forbidden to leave the grounds. One day, Miss Emily (Sally Hawkins) explains to them what their purpose in life is. As they grow into adults, they must confront what their lives mean and how they feel about each other.
Never Let Me Go’s UK release date has been much delayed, something of a surprise given that it feels like such a British film. There were concerns about a lack of quality, and a lacklustre US box office performance. However, we can urge you to go and see it.
Mark Romanek’s first feature since 2002’s One Hour Photo (He was attached to The Wolf Man but dropped out just before shooting) is assured, wonderfully shot, and perfectly performed. The American former music video director captures the atmosphere of a British boarding school and resists the urge to overly romanticise rural England. The cinematography is frostily beautiful but never overtly stylised. Alex Garland’s screenplay may reveal a little too much too early but, given the quality of the rest of the film, it is a minor quibble.
The cast is superb, featuring Carey Mulligan (An Education) as Kathy, Andrew Garfield (The Social Network) as Tommy, and Keira Knightley as Ruth. Early in the film, Ruth sweeps Tommy away from Kathy, who is forced to look on as they become a couple. Mulligan (who also narrates the film) is perfect, giving a heartfelt and heartbreaking performance that seems to have been bizarrely overlooked. Garfield shows impressive range as Tommy, who is awkward, naive, and prone to fits of rage. Knightley is well-cast as the manipulative Ruth, whose coldness masks a terrible fear of being alone. Rampling and Hawkins (Happy-Go-Lucky) also make their mark in small but crucial roles.
It’s difficult to talk about the film in any detail without giving anything away, but Never Let Me Go is incredibly moving for the entirety of its running time. Rather than recklessly tugging at your heartstrings, the film moves at its own pace and allows you to invest in the characters and their lives. Through odd moments of humour and the excellent chemistry between the actors, it’s impossible not to find yourself caught up in their story. Despite the weighty moral issues that the film deals with, it’s first and foremost about the people involved. And that’s certainly the point.
Ignore the lack of awards nominations. Never Let Me Go is beautiful, tender, and heartbreaking.