Directed by: Mark Romanek. Starring: Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley, Andrew Garfield. Runtime: 1h 43 min. Released: September 15, 2010.
I think the most pleasant surprise about Mark Romanek’s Never Let Me Go for is when I remembered it was written by Alex Garland when I saw his name in the credits. He adapts Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel of the same name so well, and the film has such a literary feel and literary structure that it is compelling to watch.
Even though this has been out for 10 years, I quite literally knew nothing about this one other than the cast and title. I wanted to watch this for Keira Knightley but she’s far from the best part about this. The story is about three friends – Kathy (Carey Mulligan), Ruth (Keira Knightley) and Tommy (Andrew Garfield) – as we follow them from their childhood at a posh English boarding school called Hailsham, into their adulthood where they embrace what they’ve put on this Earth for.
And really, from the point that a teacher at Hailsham, Miss Lucy (Sally Hawkins), tells the children their purpose, I was hooked by the premise of this. This is a world with “donors” and “carers” where, thanks to the advancement of medicine, organ donation is a big thing and this is what these characters are chosen for. The carers are those that help the donors along.
There are a few twists and turns in this, but the “science fiction” part of this romance feels minimal and doesn’t bog down the story for those who don’t like science fiction that much. There’s some science fiction when we’re learning more about these donors. This aspect brings an extra layer to it that these characters won’t be able to live full lives.
It also says something about appreciating the time you do have on Earth. Garland’s screenplay portrays all these themes beautifully, especially the aspect of art in the film and how it relates to the character’s humanity. The characters themselves are lovely.
I think Carey Mulligan is phenomenal here as Kathy and her quiet nature and compassion is great. She’s the heart and soul here. Andrew Garfield also has a couple of strong moments to shine. Keira Knightley plays Ruth very well, even though I never felt as much sympathy for the character as I would have liked.
She’s the reason for the love triangle between them that’s at the core of the story, and it starts out believably enough at Hailsham. It’s also just heartbreaking because Kathy and Tommy seem perfect together, and that aspect makes it feel realistic for Ruth as a character. The jealousy portrayed is solid. It’s solid in scenes where it’s being voiced and talked about, and solid in one scene where Ruth is territorial. I don’t really like Knightley’s character here, but she plays jealous very well.
The contrast between Ruth and Kathy as characters makes this dynamic so intriguing. The actor’s chemistry as young adults as a trio works very well, as they just sell the intimacy of it all. The film works throughout as it reaches emotional points in the film (most of these reside in the third act for me) and it works very well in the beginning when they are children. The child actors (Charlie Rowe as Tommy, Izzy Meikle-Small as Kathy and Ella Purnell as Ruth) do a great job and look like the adult counterparts. I think the only way the casting would be better here in terms of looking like their adult counterparts is if Ruth were played by Alicia Vikander.
The structure of this film is just very easy to watch throughout, but never to a point where it is too simplistic. Garland’s adaptation of this is just excellent. Rachel Portman’s score also complements the story so well and it really made me feel the humanity of the characters in this heartbreaking story.