Never Let Me Go

Never Let Me Go
  • Country of production: UK/ USA
  • Year: 2010
  • Certificate: 12A
  • Director: Mark Romanek
  • Running time: 105 minutes
  • Official website:

Never Let Me Go is a poignant love story set in an England that is at once familiar and subtly altered. It focuses on three children as they grow up and come to terms with both their feelings for each other and a sinister fate that awaits them. This is ‘British film at its very best', with ‘outstanding' performances (David Gritten, The Daily Telegraph) from CAREY MULLIGAN, ANDREW GARFIELD and KEIRA KNIGHTLEY. All three were nominated for British Independent Film Awards (with Carey Mulligan named Best Actress) and Evening Standard Film Awards. ‘This is a moving and provocative film that initially unsettles, then disturbs and finally haunts you' (Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times).

The story starts in 1978 in an apparently normal English boarding school. However, on closer inspection all is not as it seems. The children's surnames are not used, the teachers are described as guardians and the school and its pupils are strangely cut off from the outside world, the children even taking lessons in ordering a cup of tea in a café. The headmistress, Miss Emily (a tweed-suited CHARLOTTE RAMPLING), is very strict about making sure the pupils watch their health and understand that they are "special".

The film is based on KAZUO ISHIGURO‘s celebrated Booker-nominated novel from 2005, which has been adapted for the screen by ALEX GARLAND, author of The Beach. As with Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day, the fundamental premise is not immediately spelled out in the film and we do not make it explicit here either. The film follows a new teacher at the school, Miss Lucy (SALLY HAWKINS), and the children as they come to learn what the future holds for them.

Meanwhile the three central characters also have their own love triangle and personal betrayals to contend with. Kathy is drawn to troubled loner Tommy, but her friend Ruth first mocks then kisses him and lays claims to him even though he secretly loves Kathy back. As young adults (played by Mulligan, Garfield and Knightley), their feelings of love and jealousy will be intensified by their peculiar circumstances.


Never Let Me Go


Never Let Me Go is that rare find, a fragile little four-leaf clover of a movie that's emotionally devastating, yet all too easily trampled by cynics.'


Never Let Me Go represents very fine film-making. Great care has been taken in transplanting Kazuo Ishiguro's original novel to the screen and it has been widely praised for the delicacy and restraint of the script, acting and filming. ‘The film's thought-through storytelling, spot-on performances and velvety Rachel Portman score work tellingly in concert' (Trevor Johnston, Sight & Sound).

Social conditioning

The few (mainly American) critics who expressed frustration at the characters' lack of rebelliousness ignored the far-reaching power of the conditioning they are subject to. Lacking input from their parents (their "originals" as they call them), their submission to the fate laid down for them is unsurprising. ‘Everyone is very English about it: phlegmatic, accepting, melancholic, and this is arguably a shrewd, real insight into how people would actually be - or, indeed, how they actually are' (Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian).

The children's blind trust is laid bare by Ruth's reaction to someone questioning what they have been told: that mutilation awaits those who venture beyond the school walls. She says presciently: "Who'd make up stories as horrible as that?"

Bumper crop of cast-offs

At one point in the film the children are delighted when a vanload - a "bumper crop" - of used toys arrives for them. A series of abandoned objects in the film (such as a fading doll left on a shelf and a boat washed up on a beach) are testimony to the wearing effect of time. Director Mark Romanek often holds the frame after the characters have exited, emphasising their transience in a world that will continue without them, as Trevor Johnston remarked in Sight & Sound.

This film is a cousin of Logan's Run (1976), in which people lead an idyllic existence under a giant dome until they are killed off at 30. However it is about as far removed as it is possible to be from another film with a similar premise, Michael Bay's brash action thriller The Island (2005). ‘A different, perhaps more full-blooded approach might have wrought teary melodrama from the material, but Romanek and company seem to have been seeking a response of quiet thoughtfulness, and have richly succeeded in that aim' (Trevor Johnston, Sight & Sound). The director understood that the film ‘would be most affecting when understated, which is why the moral question at the heart of the story is unspoken... but loudly heard' (Rex Roberts, Film Journal International).

Carer Mulligan

Carey Mulligan, as a "carer" and the film's focal figure and narrator, ‘makes those silences eloquent, the heartbreak nearly audible' (Richard Corliss, Time Magazine). Excluded by Ruth and Tommy, Kathy's emotions are not verbalised and Mulligan communicates a great deal by doing very little. Her performance is ‘magnetic... she can shift the direction of a scene with a hopeful tip of her chin, or a nuanced glance' (Kate Muir, The Times).

Bumper crop of British actors

Anthony Garfield is also ‘mesmerising' (Peter Travers, Rolling Stone) and has been described as having the ‘neurotic appeal' of a young Anthony Perkins (Rex Roberts, Film Journal International). In fact all the performances are strong, not least those of the child actors playing the main characters at school, who closely resemble their later selves.

The human condition

Despite the subjects' unnatural circumstances, this is a film about what it is to be human and how we lead our lives, however long they may be. ‘The melancholy attached to the impermanence of life and love suffuses this film, making it memorably haunting and hypnotic' (Peter Travers, Rolling Stone).


Never Let Me Go



Carey Mulligan's big breakthrough came in 2009 as the heroine of An Education. Her pixie looks meant Mulligan could play the part of the 16-year-old schoolgirl hungry for life experience in early-1960s suburban London despite being in her early twenties herself.

She had been a film regular since appearing alongside her future Never Let Me Go co-star Keira Knightley in Pride & Prejudice in 2005. Further supporting roles in British productions had followed, including the family film And When Did You Last See Your Father? (2007) and television dramas Bleak House (2005), The Amazing Mrs Pritchard (2006), Northanger Abbey (2007) and My Boy Jack (2007).

But it was her commanding turn in An Education, which combined a winning sense of naivety with precocious intelligence and earned Mulligan a Bafta award and Oscar nomination, that firmly established her. The success of that film prompted Hollywood offers and she has since worked for high-profile directors Oliver Stone (as Gordon Gekko's daughter in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps in 2010) and Michael Mann (on his 1930s-set gangster film Public Enemies alongside Johnny Depp in 2009). She also starred with Jake Gyllenhaal in Jim Sheridan's Brothers (2009) and with Pierce Brosnan and Susan Sarandon in The Greatest (2009).

Among future projects, Mulligan has been cast alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in Baz Luhrmann's adaptation of The Great Gatsby. Demonstrating her versatility, she sang the lead female vocal on the title track of Belle and Sebastian's Write About Love album in 2010.



Garfield graduated from drama school in 2005 and has already achieved prominence, winning a host of awards and working with some of the greatest names in film.

Born in Los Angeles to an American father and British mother, Garfield was raised in Surrey and has successfully combined work on both sides of the Atlantic.

His career began in theatre in the UK and by 2006 he had won several Outstanding or Most Promising Newcomer awards. He proceeded to made a distinctive mark in television roles - notably playing a troubled teen newly released form prison in Boy A (2007) (for which he won the Bafta TV Award for Best Actor the following year) and a young investigative reporter in acclaimed Yorkshire-set Channel 4 crime mini-series the Red Riding trilogy (2009). He also had a significant Hollywood role as a disaffected student in Robert Redford's 2007 Afghanistan-war drama Lions for Lambs, alongside Redford, Tom Cruise and Meryl Streep. In 2009 he starred opposite Christopher Plummer in Terry Gilliam's The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.

Garfield has recently been nominated for a Golden Globe and a Bafta for his performance as an internet entrepreneur in David Fincher's story of the founding of Facebook, The Social Network (2010).

His profile is set to rise further in 2012 when he will play Spider-Man in the "rebooted" version of the superhero franchise.



Keira Knightley is one of Britain's biggest movie stars, even though she is still in her mid-20s. Born in London to an actor father and playwright mother in 1985, Knightley became a successful child actress, with early roles in TV drama. A notable step was being cast in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace in 1999 as the maid to the Queen played by Natalie Portman. With her porcelain good looks and willingness to combine roles in Hollywood films with less mainstream projects, Knightley has enjoyed a career and profile similar to Portman's.

Knightley's winning performance as the football-mad schoolgirl in 2002 comedy Bend It Like Beckham brought her to people's attention in the UK, but it was her role as the intrepid Elizabeth Swann in Disney blockbuster Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003) that propelled her to international superstardom. A part in Richard Curtis's Love Actually in the same year (alongside such luminaries as Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman) sealed her status as a bona fide British talent.

Knightley gave one of her finest performances to date playing the indomitable heroine of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice (2005) and she was nominated for an Oscar and Golden Globe. She reunited with that film's director, Joe Wright, for 2007 wartime drama Atonement and was rewarded with Bafta and Golden Globe nominations. While also involved in the subsequent two Pirates of the Caribbean films, Knightley has tended to focus on more serious, smaller-scale projects, often playing real-life period figures, such as the Duchess of Devonshire in The Duchess, and as Dylan Thomas's lover in The Edge of Love (which was written by her mother) in 2008.

Her commitment to such roles looks set to continue, with Knightley presently cast as one of Sigmund Freud's early colleagues in David Cronenberg's A Dangerous Method.



Making her debut in the 1965 Swinging Sixties comedy The Knack... And How To Get It, Rampling has established one of the most formidable - and diverse - bodies of work of any actress of her generation. English-born, this strikingly good-looking former model rose to prominence in iconic British film Georgy Girl (1966). But alongside her UK career, Rampling was a distinctive - and sometimes controversial - presence in European cinema, appearing alongside Dirk Bogarde in Visconti's The Damned (1969) and in The Night Porter (1974), where she played a concentration camp survivor who embarks on a sexual relationship with her former jailer. Even more bizarrely, in Max, Mon Amour (1986), she plays the wife of a British diplomat who has an affair with a chimpanzee. Alongside these challenging performances, Rampling took regular Hollywood roles - notably with Robert Mitchum in Farewell, My Lovely (1975); with Woody Allen in his Stardust Memories (1980); with Paul Newman in Sidney Lumet's The Verdict (1982) and with Mickey Rourke and Robert De Niro in Alan Parker's New Orleans-set thriller Angel Heart (1987). Of late, she has combined English-language parts - most recently bucking her reputation for playing upper-class types in the kids' movie StreetDance 3D (2010) - with French films such as Swimming Pool (2003).



Like so many British actors, Sally Hawkins has Mike Leigh to thank for her high profile. After small roles in his 2002 All or Nothing and his 2004 Vera Drake, Hawkins was cast in the lead role of Poppy in Happy-Go-Lucky in 2008. Combining an effusive optimism with hints of vulnerability, Hawkins's performance won her a Golden Globe for Best Actress and led on to other roles in British cinema, such as one of the striking women in last year's industrial-dispute comedy Made in Dagenham. She will also be seen shortly in Submarine (2010).



Never Let Me Go is one of classical stage actress and former dancer Nathalie Richard's rare roles in English-language cinema. But she has a distinguished track record working with some of French cinema's leading filmmakers on titles including Irma Vep (Olivier Assayas, 1996) and Hidden (Michael Haneke, 2005).



In 2009 Andrea Riseborough was cast as the young Margaret Thatcher in BBC drama The Long Walk to Finchley. Playing such a famous woman would have been a challenge to most actresses, but it says something for the Whitley Bay-born performer's talent that she managed the transformation so adeptly - earning a Bafta nomination for her performance. It represented a breakthrough following her part in Sam Taylor-Wood's short film Love You More (2008) and supporting performances in films such as Happy-Go-Lucky (2008). Riseborough played alongside Sally Hawkins in that film and did so again in last year's Made in Dagenham. She can also be seen playing Rose in Brighton Rock (2010).



Dublin-born Domhnall Gleeson's first film work was acting alongside his father, Brendan Gleeson, in the Oscar-winning short Six Shooter in 2004. He's continued to work as an actor, both on stage and on film, as well as a director and writer (his short film Noreen last year starred his father). More cinema-goers will recognise him, though, as the grown-up Bill Weasley from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (2010).



There was a 17-year break between Mark Romanek's first feature film, Static (1985), a bizarre comedy set in a TV studio, and his second, One-Hour Photo, a dark and sombre drama about a stalker played by Robin Williams. Chicago-born Romanek was busy in the intervening period, establishing himself as one of the leading music-video directors, with promos for such performers as R.E.M. and David Bowie. His 2003 video of Johnny Cash's Hurt has been judged the best music video ever.



Born in Japan but resident in England since 1960 when he was six years old and awarded the OBE in 1995, Kazuo Ishiguro is one of Britain's most eminent novelists, with four Booker Prize nominations to his name. Of his six novels, The Remains of the Day, which won the Booker in 1989, is probably his most well known, thanks in no small part to the 1993 film adaptation. His original screenplays include The Saddest Music in the World (2003) and The White Countess (2005), both the subject of previous issues of Film Eye.



Garland's novels include The Beach, The Tesseract and The Coma. His original screenplays include 28 Days Later (2002) and Sunshine (2007).


Never Let Me Go

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