Never Let Me Go | 2010
Mark Romanek’s film of the Kazuo Ishiguro novel upends all the conventions of its ostensibly sci-fi premise – there’s no gradual revelation of the sinister plot, no desperate attempt to escape. We’re told early on the fate of the pupils at this strangely Dickensian school. Even odder, we’re expected to go along with their passive acquiescence.
This isn’t the well-worn cliché of humans exploited by callous technology, but a heart-wrenching meditation on the fact that life is just too damn short for everyone, and there’s no time for missed opportunities.
The film is set, like 1984 and Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, in a creepily retro alternative Britain. ‘Hailsham House’, the very special school presided over by Miss Emily (Charlotte Rampling) is Ham House, Ham Street, Richmond-upon-Thames, southwest London (which previously stood in for ‘Kensington Palace’ in The Young Victoria).
The house has also been seen in Joe Wright’s 2012 film of Anna Karenina, with Keira Knightley and Jude Law, and in sci-fi adventure John Carter. It’s a National Trust property and open to the public.
Gloomy school interiors were filmed in Chiswick Town Hall, Heathfield Terrace, London W4 – previously used for the meeting of Industrial Workers of the World in Warren Beatty’s 1982 epic Reds.
On the drive out to see Ruth’s (Keira Knightley) ‘original’, the older kids awkwardly order sausage egg and chips at the Regent Restaurant, 13 Regent Street at Salisbury Terrace, near the entrance to the Grand Pier at Weston-super-Mare in Somerset.
Weston-super-Mare and its pier, of course, were the locations for the final scenes of another Ishiguro adaptation, The Remains of the Day. The pier at Weston-super-Mare, though, is not the one seen in the film.
The ‘travel agent’, where Ruth is disappointed to find that it’s not her ‘original’, is a few miles up the coast from Weston at Clevedon. It’s a technology consultant company on the junction of Hill Road and Copse Road.
And it’s here, at Clevedon Pier, where the three face up to the unlikelihood that their ‘originals’ were taken from the professional classes at all.
The elegant, but comparatively severe, Grade I-listed Victorian pier partly collapsed in 1970 but was restored and fully reopened in1998. Restoration was helped by sponsorship, hence the 10,000 or so brass plaques attached to its wooden planks, which you can see in the film. For a minimum donation of £20, you can add your name.
Up to Scotland, to find the glumly Brutalist ‘Dover Recovery Centre’, where Kathy (Carey Mulligan) helps donors on their way to ‘completion’, which is the Andrew Melville Hall, a student hall of residence of the University of St Andrews on the North Haugh, St Andrews, in Fife. An assembly of prefabricated concrete modules, it was designed in the Sixties by architect James Stirling.
Returning south to England, the beach, with the desolate boat, is Holkham Beach, part of the Holkham Hall estate, three miles west of Wells-next-the-Sea on the A149 on the north coast of Norfolk. The same expansive beach was used for the ending of Shakespeare in Love.
And finally, it’s down to the South Coast of East Sussex to find the seafront home of Madame (Nathalie Richard) and Miss Emily, on De La Warr Parade between Brassey Road and Middlesex Road in Bexhill-on-Sea.