The year 2027 isn’t looking good for Lauryn Hill. Britain is a neo-fascist fortress state and the government has really got it in for the ‘Fugees. This isn’t the only odd term (refugees – geddit?) floating around in Children Of Men, with freedom fighters/terrorists the ’Fishes’ striving to overthrow the status quo and make this sceptred isle a safe haven for immigrants from a nuke-blasted globe. The world’s lost its remaining superpower (presumably to obesity), leaving us original colonialists a lonely colony of pseudo-civility in an ocean of dystopian diarrhoea. Britannia Rules the stinking waves.
“Avoiding fertility tests is a crime,” scream digi-billboards, while self-despatching poisons are marketed for those who can’t cope with living without hope (“Quietus – You decide when”). Even worse, there’s advertising on the BBC.
Little wonder Theo – that’s God in Greek, kids, we looked it up – is drinking to forget. The curious pity of Children Of Men is that you won’t have to. It’s a very finely made film, with Owen hinting at a humanity beneath the character’s grubby cynicism and delivering one of his most consistent, impressive performances. Gutter-smeared, grotty, futurist Britain is almost entirely convincing. There are a couple of scenes likely to tug tears – the ‘Ruby Tuesday’ goodbye; the quelling of gunfire by primal cries – and the final sequence is technically sublime.
And yet... And yet... For all its fine parts, Children Of Men is somehow less than the sum. Owen and Moore don’t make a strong enough connection for the emotional charge to pulse; Chiwetel Ejiofor’s character has muddy motivations and 2-D dialogue; Cuarón wants the shake, rattle and roll of verité, but can’t resist the odd shot of studied elegance. A scene of dreadlocked midwife crusty Pam Ferris spewing backstory ends with Kee (Ashitey) framed in a shattered window so perfectly it fractures the piece’s reality. Mostly, though, it’s a problem of pace. The picture begins with a bang, then steadies to a speed that rarely varies. For all the blood and bullets, the heart barely beats above ‘mild peril’.
The final issue for you is whether to pay to see at the cinema a variation of what you can watch for free on TV each night: immigrants reviled, terror in the streets. Children Of Men’s central no-sprogs conceit is presumably a metaphor for Man’s eternal self-destructive struggle, with Cuarón delivering a ‘War On Terror’ garnish that either makes it prescient or obvious – take your pick. It is a good film, likely to play strongly to The Guardian crowd without moving anyone who reads the Daily Mail. Ignorance abides. Love is what we hope for. The future is now.
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A handsomely made thriller that doesn't grip, but sometimes touches, Alfonso Cuarón's post-Potter sci-cry is a qualified success.