Adaptations of popular novels for young adults are clogging up Hollywood production lines quicker than authors can write them. Following the success of Twilight and The Hunger Games comes a far grittier, grounded tale of ordinary kids at war starring Saoirse Ronan.
As American abroad Daisy, Ronan is outstanding, at first precocious teen before becoming a slowly budding flower when shipped to the English countryside to stay with her cousins. With World War 3 about to break out, her Aunt Penn leaves Daisy with the children; hunky Edmond (George MacKay), nerdy Isaac (Tom Holland) and their imaginative but annoying little sister Piper (Harley Bird).
Just as Daisy starts to let herself go, breaking down the barriers she puts up against the world, a nuke devastates London and worse still, she starts to fall in love with cousin Edmond. Heartbreak ensues as the kids are split up, forced to survive the war apart and desperate to find a way back home.
Director Kevin Macdonald creates two very distinct moods; optimism, hope, beauty and the joy of being young and free in the outdoors before the second half paints a bleak portrait of life under occupation. Despite the mood swing, Franz Lustig’s gorgeous bursts of close up photography stay beautiful throughout, adding pathos to the already emotional story.
While some elements of the novel appear lost in translation (the telepathic stuff sits uneasily with the realism of the rest of the film), Saoirse Ronan gives a magnificent performance transforming slowly from self-centred teen to terrified but determined victim and finally to something more.
Adapted from the novel by Meg Rosoff, it really treats its audience as adults containing mild incest, plenty of swearing, a dash of sex and some shocking moments of violence. It is admirable for not toning down the brutality of war (hello Hunger Games) or the language and lust of its protagonists (goodbye Twilight).
THE VERDICT A YA adaptation with the focus firmly on the adult, How I Live Now mixes forbidden romance with a bleak vision of World War 3. Twilight it ain’t.
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