Never Let Me Go: Adapting Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel for the big screen

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Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel Never Let Me Go is the source material for director Mark Romanek’s film adaptation of the same name. The film, which stars Keira Knightley, Andrew Garfield, and Carey Mulligan, is being released by Twentieth Century Fox on September 15.

The finished manuscript for Never Let Me Go wound up in the hands of Ishiguro’s friend, screenwriter Alex Garland. 

Garland is himself a leading British novelist (The Beach, The Coma) who has written the screenplays for 28 DAYS LATER and SUNSHINE, both at the vanguard edges of the sci-fi genre.  As he read Never Let Me Go, Garland couldn’t help but dare to dream of it on the screen.  

Endless potential

“The book, the characters and the themes spoke to me so immediately I nearly called Ishiguro half way through the novel to ask him for the film rights.  I had to restrain myself until I got to the end,” recalls Garland.

Soon thereafter, Ishiguro, already being aggressively pursued by numerous filmmakers, agreed to give Garland his trust.  “I have enormous admiration for Alex as a screenwriter and novelist, and I thought he was absolutely right for this,” explains the author.  

From that point on, Ishiguro became an integral part of the process. He gave Garland creative carte blanche – but Garland felt the author’s input was indispensable.  “Ishiguro was very involved, reading drafts of the script at every stage and giving me notes,” explains Garland.  “He helped us to decide where we could economize and compact the story and what we absolutely could not lose. Even when he wasn’t directly involved, I always felt his presence strongly, because I was so focused on creating as faithful an adaptation as I could. My job, as I saw it, was this:  to take Ishiguro’s ideas and make them cinematic.”  

Taking the novel to Hollywood

Soon after he received Ishiguro’s blessings, Garland took the book in its proof form to producers Andrew Macdonald and Allon Reich at the leading British production company DNA Films, who earlier produced the motion picture adaptation of his novel, THE BEACH, as well as his original screenplays 28 DAYS LATER and SUNSHINE, all directed by Danny Boyle.  

Macdonald and Reich were immediately taken in.  “The story of NEVER LET ME GO is incredibly moving,” says Macdonald.  “It is very different from anything I’ve been involved with before. This is a tragic love story at its heart. Yet, you have no idea what is going to happen to the characters and when you find out you are left forever haunted by their fate.” 

Reich adds, “There is something very specific and quite extraordinary about the world Ishiguro creates in his books.  The control of narrative and the control of the voice in NEVER LET ME GO is quite astonishing.   When Alex came to us saying he had a real notion of how to adapt it, that was a perfect reason to get involved.”

That hunch paid off. “Alex then brought us a beautifully subtle adaptation,” Reich continues.  “Compressing a book like this into a 100-page screenplay while remaining faithful to its spirit is incredibly difficult, but he made it work.”