Selective ignorance is bliss. I haven’t read Meg Rosoff’s bestselling “young adult” novel How I Live Now, about a New York teenager visiting her English country cousins on the outbreak of an engulfing terrorist war. So I can’t, like some critics, use the book to bash the screen adaptation, nor do I feel the wish. To the reviewing colleague who mystifyingly judges the film “slightly drab”, I can only retaliate with my epithets. Textured; tone-perfect; near-totally captivating.
The pooling of periods is what director Kevin Macdonald (The Last King of Scotland) does beautifully. His near-future Britain is backwashed by past wars and war moods (Elgar on the radio between conflict updates). The initially brusque heroine, superbly played by Saoirse Ronan, reminds us that Carroll’s Alice was also a little sharp and stroppy: Ronan’s Daisy even has Alice’s Tenniel-illustrated surreal straight-falling hair. Daisy’s romance with the older brother (George Mackay) modulates from tersely shy to fairytale-touched, timeless-seeming.
The countryside is filmed with a gorgeous high-fidelity radiance, though it too is allowed mood changes as the landscapes modulate in a last-reel escape odyssey. Golden hillsides; sinister marshlands; dark gothic woods; tangled wildernesses. All England is here: a blend, like the movie and its story, of dark with light, of the eternal-pastoral with tense and tactile forebodings of an unwritten future.