Never Let Me Go: sometimes less is less

Never Let Me Go is a reasonable enough adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s brilliant and understated novel but it adds nothing to the book and in places badly fumbles its key revelations. The story concerns three friends who grow up together at what appears to be an exclusive and unusual private school and gradually come to realise why they can never fully be part of normal society (apologies for vagueness, but it would be a major spoiler to go into detail) and Ishiguro’s prose is masterful: the events are described from the point of view of one of the friends, who sees nothing peculiar about her circumstances and her projected future, and the hints about what’s really going on are worked in with admirable subtlety.

The film certainly captures the tone of the book. The school seems believable, terribly English and polite, probably located in the Home Counties. A lot of the activities that make up the children’s day seem unorthodox, but hardly perverse or extreme, and the headmistress figure (played by a pitch-perfect Charlotte Rampling) is an archetypal firm-but-fair disciplinarian. It’s initially quite intriguing – or would be if the first thing we see on screen wasn’t an expository caption that gives far too much away. And if that wasn’t enough, we fairly quickly get a full-on info-dump from one of the teachers that robs the narrative of any mystery, and the film of any tension. Oh, and in case you were having trouble keeping up there’s regular voiceover from Carey Mulligan explaining where we are and who’s in a relationship with who. By the time we get to the third act, when the friends have reached adulthood and are meeting their destinies, the pacing has gone out the window and the film is seriously becalmed, with no real conflict and a pervading sense of inevitability. Turning up the strings on the soundtrack and getting the actors to cry a lot didn’t really elicit much of a response from this viewer, at least.

Still, it looks pretty good (lots of countryside and beaches) and the acting’s generally great (particularly Andrew Garfield as the shy and inarticulate Tommy), and I guess you’ve got to give them credit for being generally faithful to the source material and not introducing contrived dramatic episodes in order to keep the audience’s attention. Maybe some books just make better films than others.

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