‘Never Let Me Go’ comes to the screen — and Carey Mulligan learns to drive

Oct. 09, 2009 | 8:41 p.m.

Kazuo Ishiguro

Rachel Abramowitz writes about film for the Los Angeles Times Calendar section and a good number of her articles are on the nexus between novels and Hollywood. She’s written about the film-world experience of bookshelf brand names as varied as J.R.R. Tolkien, Philippa Gregory and Hergé. Today she has a Hero Complex exclusive on director Mark Romanek’s screen version of Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel “Never Let Me Go.” — Geoff Boucher

For those who like their sci-fi literate, Kazuo Ishiguro’s 2005 haunting novel “Never Let Me Go” fits the bill. The book is the elliptical tale of three friends, Kathy, Ruth and Tommy, and the impact of their days spent at Hailsham, an otherworldly British boarding school where life is a perfectly enclosed circle, distinct and separate from the menace of the outside world. Kathy, the narrator, expresses the insular feel of their hothouse existence: “At that stage in our lives, any place beyond Hailsham was like a fantasy land; we had only the haziest notions of the world outside and about what was and wasn’t possible.” 

Like the best Gothic tales, the alternative reality book harbors a dark secret, something that has to do with the terms “carer” and “donor,” words used with ambiguity to describe Kathy for much of the story. The tome by Ishiguro (whose best known work is “The Remains of the Day“) isn’t gruesome; instead it’s spooky and sad, an existential meditation on mortality. Innocence is extinguished by the dawning of knowledge.

Now comes the film, due next year, from director Mark Romanek, (“One Hour Photo”) and writer Alex Garland (“The Beach”). It stars Keira Knightley, Andrew Garfield, and the “It” girl of the moment, Carey Mulligan, as Kathy.

“When I read the book three years ago, I said I have to play Kathy,“ the gamine Mulligan said during her recent publicity tour for “An Education.”

Carey Mulligan

“I was so moved by it,” the actress said. “That story between her and Tommy is so beautiful. The end where in the book he says — it’s not in the film — ‘Sometimes I think of us like two people standing in a river and there’s water rushing around us and we’re holding on to each other tight and trying not to get swept away.’ “

The resulting script was a mere 96 pages long, sparse and tight, done in chapters. “When I go Kathy, I felt a huge responsibility playing a book that people love so much, the kind of book that you read and then you push it on other people.”

The only hiccup in the whole production, Mulligan said, is that she had to learn how to drive. Well, the actress, who still takes the bus when in L.A., was supposed to learn how to drive. The production put her in a two-week intensive course to teach her how to maneuver a manual shift.

“It’s a bonus,” she said, “getting to learn how to drive for a job.“ Perhaps, except for the fact that she failed the driving test, and the production had to shoot on a private road, the only place she was allowed behind the wheel. “I’m really bad at it,” she confessed. “No hand and eye coordination.”

– Rachel Abramowitz

Top photo: Kazuo Ishiguro. Credit: Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles
Times. Bottom: Carey Mulligan. Credit: Ken Hively / Los Angeles Times.

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