Running Time: 109 minutes.
Rated: Rated MA 15+.
It was something of a surprise when P.D. James published Children of Men a few years ago. Her fans know her as a writer of stylish and literate crime thrillers, which are also murder mysteries and investigations but have much more depth than average. Children of Men is not a crime thriller. Rather, it is a futuristic story, more in the vein of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World or George Orwell's 1984.
This time the year is 2027. The setting is London. However, it is a London that is recognisable but in a state of growing decay. The rest of the world has collapsed economically, militarily and even morally. Refugees, especially from Eastern Europe and Africa, are pouring into Britain only to be rounded up by hardened soldiers and police, locked in cages and transported to holding camps (with one in Bexhill). In this way the film has resonances with current British migration issues.
There is a more important factor that makes this story different. The world has become infertile. There are no more children of men and women. At the opening, there is dismay as news reaches London that the youngest person in the world, an 18 year old from Argentina, has been killed in a brawl. There is a huge outpouring of grief. This compounds the despair that when everyone dies, there will be an empty world. Everything will be still there with no one to see it.
On this level, the film works well, omitting large sections of the sub-plot concerning the hero's political cousin, but keeping the main narrative and P. D. James' themes. (A warning that the screenplay goes beyond Baroness James' literate and more refined language and relies a lot on a more frank and four-lettered vocabulary.)
Clive Owen, just as unsmiling as usual but galvanised into action, is Theo, an ordinary citizen in these grim times who lives a more comfortable life because he is born English. When he is abducted by a revolutionary group, The Fish, led by Julianne Moore and Chiwitel Ejiofor, he is asked to get official permission for travel for an African young woman - who is pregnant.
The plot is complicated by the mother-to-be being an alien to be deported by the government, by the rebels wanting to keep the baby as a symbol of their fight against the authorities. It is a reminder that when all is said and done, we all respond well to a baby and can imagine our dismay if there were to be no more.
The bulk of the film consists of the dangerous journey of Theo and the girl to Bexhill to try to escape to The Human Project, an organisation that people have heard of but have never seen. It is a dangerous quest which ends up in the middle of the battles of an uprising.
Will the human race actually survive? Is the pregnancy a sign that humans will be able to reproduce? Just for a few moments, there is a ceasefire, as the young woman walks with her baby through the awestruck troops.
Michael Caine, Julianne Moore and Peter Mullan have solid cameo roles. Direction is by Mexican Alfonso Cuaron who made such a success of the third Harry Potter film. The film screened at the Venice Film Festival, 2006, where it received an award for photography and effects. It certainly does create a credibly squalid London, contrasting with the still beautiful countryside. This and the fierce battle sequences make us thankful for what we still have.
Fr Peter Malone MSC directs the film desk of SIGNIS: the World Association of Catholic Communicators, and an associate of the Australian Catholic Film Office.