Never Let Me Go: Crafting the costumes for a timeless look

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Mark Romanek is the director of "Never Let Me Go," starring Keira Knightley, Andrew Garfield, and Carey Mulligan. The film, which based on Kazuo Ishiguro's novel, is being released by Twentieth Century Fox on September 15, 2010.

“This was a very challenging film for costumes,” comments costume designer Steven Noble, “because it is set in a parallel universe that needed to reflect the recent past, from the 70s to the 90s, while also looking completely timeless.  That’s not an easy line to walk.”  


Noble, along with costume designer Rachael Fleming, used a lot of second-hand clothing, the kind of well-worn, vaguely eccentric items one might find hanging in a hidden corner of a thrift shop.  They also asked a variety of British boarding schools to send them old uniforms, from which they forged the mismatched hodgepodge of the Hailsham outfits.  “The children have no need to identify themselves or their school so the outfits are very plain and simple, with no emblems, stripes or badges of any kind,” explains Fleming.  “Any sense of style they have comes only from what tiny glimpses they’ve seen of the outside world.”  


Meanwhile, the teachers wear what Noble calls “tweedy chic.”  “We used 60s silhouettes but in tweeds which manages to look period without really being from a specific date and place,” he says.  


A different England 


In the end, the team created an England that is not quite like any other England ever seen at the movies. “This is not a lush evocation of England,” Romanek remarks.  “There are no shiny, new objects in the film.  Everything is faded and worn and hand-me-down.  This is where the idea of Wabi Sabi came in. There is always a sense of time ticking, ticking, ticking.  We were careful to put clocks and watches in nearly every scene, because the story is so much about the passage of time and the preciousness of time.  We tried to do that with sound design as well – it’s not just clocks that mark the passage of time but the wind and rhythms of nature as well.”  


Seeking Ishiguro's approval


When the film was completed, the filmmakers put all of its elements, from the costumes to the photography to the performances, through a final test:  showing it to Ishiguro.  Recalls Romanek:  “There was tremendous trepidation and anxiety when we showed him our first rough cut.  We were all waiting for him outside and . . .  he really seemed to love it.  He had some constructive comments but he seemed thrilled.  That was a massive relief.  We set out to make this movie because of how much we loved and respected his novel – yet we knew the film also had to have its own life independent of that novel.  It was gratifying to feel that we had — in his estimation — been true to his novel while allowing the story to become its own experience for a movie audience.”  


Concludes Ishiguro:  “I hope audiences start off thinking this is a strange, eerie film about peculiar people; but as the film goes on, I hope they see it is a story about all of us, so that the sense of recognition gets stronger and stronger until, finally, what Kathy, Tommy and Ruth are going through is what we all go through in life.”  





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