Netflix UK film review: Children of Men
Selina Pearson | On 18, Nov 2013
Director: Alfonso Cuaron
Cast: Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Michael Caine
Watch Children of Men online in the UK: Netflix UK / TalkTalk TV / Apple TV (iTunes) / Amazon Instant Video
It is 2027. No child has been born in 18 years. With the human race edging towards extinction, society is breaking down. The UK is one of the surviving governments, but life is grim. Populations fight to cope, the government distributes antidepressants and suicide pills, many reach for apocalyptic cults, and illegal immigrants are piling in.
Theo (Clive Owen) is a civil servant living out his days as best he can. He is contacted by his ex-wife, Julian (Julianne Moore), who is heavily embedded in one of the activist groups that has emerged from the chaos and anger. She asks Theo to obtain papers and transit for Kee (Clare-Hope Ashitey), an illegal immigrant who might just be the human race’s salvation.
Cuaron’s vision of P.D. James’ dystopian novel is bleak, stark and stunning. The story is superficially simple – a journey to sanctuary for Kee – but the films covers a range of deep issues, from loss and despair to people’s reactions to them; those resigned to their fate, angry at the dictatorial treatment they receive at the hands of the government, the authorities fighting to retain control, and those fighting back – against the odds – to save everyone.
Michael Caine steals the show in a touching turn as Theo’s friend, Jasper – an ageing hippy horticulturalist caring for his catatonic wife. Owen’s lead, meanwhile, ventures from despair at the loss of his own son, many years prior, to hope.
Visually, the film is a masterpiece, featuring three extraordinary technically difficult sequences. One is a car ambush, where the camera moves in and out of the vehicle. The second is a moving scene – a rebirth of hope – and the third is a long shot of Theo running through Bexhill refugee camp during a pitched battle. (If you are watching on DVD, the behind-the-scenes extras are a must.)
Working with cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, Cuaron has produced a masterclass in cinematography, but also emotion. The film takes on a number of themes during its 105 minutes, including sacrifice, xenophobia and the failure of science and nature. That combination makes it undoubtedly one of the best science fiction films ever made, certainly one of the best films of the last 10 years. It rivals Gravity as Cuaron’s best film to date.
Children of Men is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.