Reviewing Never Let Me Go (spoilers attached!)

It’s always difficult to watch the film of a much-loved book as you find yourself nit-picking “No it wasn’t like that”, or “that’s not what happened”.  That’s probably never been more true for me as I sat down to watch the film version of Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, which is one of my favourite books.

It’s obvious that a film can never completely replicate the stylistic decisions that an author has made; so it was made clear from the very beginning that this is an alternative vision of reality, one where sickness and ill-health have virtually been abolished.  So, unlike the book where differences are made clear gradually, and surprise is key, the viewer is obviously going to be treated very differently, and have a different experience as a result.

We get answers to some of the questions that readers of the novel may have asked.  Readers often ask why do the children, and later adults, not just run away – here they are rigidly controlled by electronic tagging wristbands.   Other images of control and order were also vividly present – regimented rows of medicine for the children, for example.   Those additions actually worked well, but I found there to be more omissions, some of which detracted from the strength and power of the original story. 

A key loss was the significance of the song “Never Let Me Go”, and the hunt for Kathy’s missing tape.  We don’t hear about the headmistress’s tears as she watches a young Kathy pretending to be a mother, while Kathy’s adult relationship with Tommy is compressed – causing it to question its sincerity.  Similarly, we don’t get much of the background or social context which is briefly conveyed to Tommy and Kathy in their visit to Madame.

None of this means that I didn’t enjoy the film.  I did: it was by no means a comfortable watch any more than the book is a comfortable read.  The film makers have created a deeply unpleasant world which raises ethical and moral questions which don’t ever seem to be even raised by carers, donors or ordinary people.  That in itself was unsettling, as were the landscapes and muted colours.  Even more so were the agonies undergone by the characters, but particularly Ruth (Keira Knightley) and Tommy (Andrew Garfield).  The former was twisted and angry, while the latter was so deliberately quiet and vulnerable.  Carey Mulliagn’s Kathy was almost like my own vision of Kathy H.

I’m glad that the film makers didn’t try to sugar coat the awfulness and vision of this world, and there are no attempts at glib happy endings as narrator Kathy leaves us waiting for her own donation process to begin. 

All in all, a powerful watch.

It was interesting to hear Andrew Garfield and the Director talking about the project, and how they had tried to bring some Japanese influences into the film; previously, there have been discussions around how Ishiguro’s joint English and Japanese heritage may have impacted upon character development within both  Never Let Me Go and The Remains of the Day. 

See the trailer at

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