This is one of those rare films which I always say is ‘better’ than the book. Kazuo Ishiguro is of course to be credited with the concept, characters and sense of place. However, I think the book lacks drama and tension (see my review here). The film adaptation, directed by Mark Romanek with a screenplay by Alex Garland and beautiful music by Rachel Portman, is understatedly romantic, tragic and haunting.
The film adds in some extra details to make this alternative England more believable. Where the book is vague, the film presents things more clearly. The basic plot is the same, with certain events given more of an impact. The only details I feel should have been included are the significance of the song ‘Never Let Me Go’ and an explanation of what Kathy means at the end when she refers to everything she lost (if you’ve read the book, you’ll know what I mean). The great strength of the film, however, is in the acting. Carey Mulligan as Kathy, Keira Knightley as Ruth and Andrew Garfield as Tommy are the starring roles. They’re just so good. There are also great performances from Sally Hawkins as Miss Lucy, Charlotte Rampling as Miss Emily, Nathalie Richard as Madame, Domhnall Gleeson as Rodney and Andrea Riseborough as Chrissie. The actors who play the young versions of Kathy, Ruth and Tommy are excellent: Isobel Meikle-Small, Ella Purnell and Charlie Rowe. The other wonderful thing about the film is the locations, which are authentic and just how you might imagine them from the book.
The ending is one of the saddest I’ve seen in a film. When I watched it at the cinema (which would have been in 2011), I could hear someone in the audience crying. I always feel devastated by the time the credits roll, yet I always come back to the this film. It’s so haunting and leaves you with so many questions.
Low-resolution film poster sourced from Wikipedia.