Entertainment & Arts

Dark drama features talented trio

Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley and Andrew Garfield in Never Let Me Go
Image caption Mulligan, Knightley and Garfield play the lead roles in Never Let Me Go

Director Mark Romanek and author Kazuo Ishiguro discuss Never Let Me Go, the former's film of the latter's acclaimed novel.

In Never Let Me Go, Keira Knightley, Carey Mulligan and Andrew Garfield play Ruth, Kathy H and Tommy - three characters with a dark secret.

The three friends grew up together at a secluded boarding school for special pupils whose lives and fates have been predetermined from birth.

The film, based on the Kazuo Ishiguro novel, has received mixed reactions from both audiences and critics, its director Mark Romanek admits.

"My experience of seeing the films at festivals and screenings so far is that there are some people that don't connect with it," the American film-maker explains.

"But the people who do connect with it are deeply moved in ways they haven't felt moved by a film in many, many years."

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Media captionKeira Knightley talks about her role in the film

The "greatest gratification" for Romanek is that Ishiguro himself is delighted with the adaptation. "I really think the film did the story justice," says the author.

"I think the intentions of the film, the key moments and the way in which the film tries to move people are identical between the book and the film."

The Japanese-born writer, now a British citizen, was shortlisted for the Booker Prize with Never Let Me Go in 2005.

Ishiguro has had four of his novels shortlisted for the prestigious award, which he won in 1989 for The Remains of the Day.

Having had the experience of seeing that work filmed in 1993, the author was happy to stand back and let Romanek adapt Never Let Me Go as he saw fit.

"I don't feel it's my role as the author of the book to interfere in the practical side of the making of the film," he explains.

"It's not helpful to have this extra voice coming in too much. It's a very complicated and collaborative process making a film, so I would only contribute if asked."

Enigmatic

Ishiguro said he intervened only once over the casting of a key character - Miss Emily, the enigmatic headmistress of the school where the first part of the film is set.

"There was a particular casting decision that I thought wouldn't work," he says, adding he was fully supportive of the actress - Charlotte Rampling - who was eventually chosen.

Image caption Garfield (l) was recently seen as a founder of Facebook in The Social Network

Best known for his music videos, Romanek himself might seem an odd choice as director. Yet his passion for the story is evident.

"I read this book the week it was published and I was deeply moved by it," he explains. "I couldn't stop thinking about it.

"It was on the second reading that I started having a little bit more objectivity about it and started imagining it as a movie."

With a reported budget of $15 million (£9.3m), the film was relatively cheap to make.

According to its director, though, the limited amount of funds made the project easier rather than more difficult.

"Just before I started Never Let Me Go, I was involved in a big Hollywood project and I ended up leaving," he says.

"On this film, which had a tenth of the budget, I was almost never told no.

"There's this strange paradox, where if you work on a smaller film with enough money you feel less pressure and more free.

"There is less fear from the studio side of things, so I was able to make the sort of film that I wanted to make."

'Genius'

The film is narrated by Mulligan's character, who becomes embroiled in a complicated love affair with Garfield's Tommy.

"We were having trouble finding the perfect actress to play Kathy and we were coming up against a start date that we couldn't really move," says Romanek.

Image caption US director Romanek also made the Robin Williams thriller One Hour Photo

"We were starting to panic because we couldn't find the right actress."

The dilemma was solved when Peter Rice - head of Fox Searchlight, the film's backers - saw Mulligan's Oscar-nominated performance in An Education.

Rice promptly sent the director a text message, which simply said: "Hire the genius Mulligan."

The British star, recently seen in Wall Street sequel Money Never Sleeps, won a best actress prize for her performance in Never Let Me Go at the British Independent Film Awards last December.

Yet the film has largely been shut out of this year's awards season, having failed to secure a single nomination at the Baftas or the Oscars.

Do such things factor into Romanek's thinking? "It's hard not to be exposed," the director concedes.

"But I'm struggling for it not to matter to me. And I just try to ignore reviews."

Never Let Me Go opens in the UK on 11 February.

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