Children of Men (2006)

Starring: Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Peter Mullan, Pam Ferris, Claire-Hope Ashitey, Chiwetel Ejiofor

Directed by: Alfonso Cuarón

Rating: 1 2 3 4 5

Clive Owen and Julianne Moore star in the dystopian film Children of Men

In Children of Men, Alfonso Cuarón (the director who made Harry Potter dark and gothic and scary) presents a chilling and utterly convincing dystopian vision of Britain in the not too distant future, that makes V for Vendetta seem suddenly hollow and theatrical.

The premise is simple: women are no longer having babies. And without the promise of new life to give hope, the world has gone to hell in a handcart. Britain remains the last bastion of semi-civilisation - if you can call it that - a fascist state ruled by martial law, where over-the-counter Euthanasia drugs are advertised on the sides of buses, terrorist bombs explode on a regular basis and refugees from war torn countries across the globe are rounded up at gun point and herded into cages, before being shipped to appalling shanty towns reminiscent of the Jewish ghettos of Nazi-occupied Poland and, it would appear, executed.

Our central protagonist in this grim, grimy, gritty, hopeless world is Theo (Clive Owen), although at first he seems an unlikely and reluctant hero, dragged into an undercover plot by rebel group the Fishes, who just happen to be led by his ex-partner Julian (Julianne Moore). But when Julian is killed (sorry, spoiler - but once they kill off a star like Moore in the first half hour, you realise all bets are off) Theo finds himself in charge of the destiny of Kee (Claire-Hope Ashitey), a black 'fugee' who is, miraculously, pregnant.

Together, he and hippy dippy midwife Miriam (Pam Ferris, looking rather bizarre with dreads) must get Kee to the sea, where she can be rescued by legendary resistance group the Human Project - who may, or may not really exist. And the only way to reach the rendezvous is through the terrible refugee camp at Bexhill (like The War of the Worlds (the novel, not the Tom Cruise film) the use of real place names in this film makes it all seem horribly, prosaically credible).

The brilliant Michael Caine stars with Clive Owen in Children of Men

With help from his intellectual, dope-smoking, and ultimately selflessly courageous friend Jasper (a marvellous and instantly loveable Michael Caine, sporting a fetching long grey wig and baggy cardigan) and a terrifying bent immigration cop called Syd (a brilliantly radge cameo courtesy of Peter Mullan), the unlikely trio infiltrate the camp - where all hell is about to break loose. And suddenly we're thrown slap bang into the middle of what seems like genuine war reportage, complete with cameras shaking as explosions rock the decaying high rises and apartment blocks and blood-spattered lenses as the bullets fly. But as Kee struggles through labour (in about five minutes - the only unconvincing part of this otherwise uncannily credible film) her tiny baby offers new hope not only to the disparate, desperate ghetto population but also to the soldiers who oppress them - and while that may sound sickeningly sentimental, believe me, you will be moved.

Now regular readers will know I'm not the world's greatest Clive Owen fan, but, like Sin City or Inside Man (Spike Lee's excellent, intelligent heist movie which I rather uselessly failed to review here), Children of Men uses his limited range of stiff facial expressions and wooden emoting to great effect. In this film, you quickly realise, there are no 'goodies' and 'baddies', but in the midst of this f*cked up Britain where everybody has a secret political agenda and nobody can be trusted, Theo alone remains rocklike and reliable in a crisis. Wearing flip-flops.

Children of Men is probably one of the best dystopian films I've ever seen, mixing the dark, paranoid atmosphere of Bladerunner with the low-tech grottiness of Delicatessen or George Orwell's 1984 and the police state brutality of V for Vendetta. Is it a cautionary tale for us selfish thirtysomethings who are stubbornly refusing procreate? Or a warning against the escalating horrors of asylum seeker detention centres like Dungavel? The great thing about this film, is it lets you make your own mind up.

It's probably best not to dwell too much on what happens next as the credits fall like a guillotine across the action (what exactly is the point of getting Kee out of the country?) but instead to revel in the strong performances, evocative and carefully chosen soundtrack (who knew we'd still be listening to Deep Purple in 2027?) and brilliantly put together, bleakly realistic settings, the attention to detail in which go a long way to enhance the horrible plausibility of the concept. So (for once), forget horror flicks, and go see something that'll really scare you: the horrific vision of the future that is Children of Men. In 2027 I'll be 64. Now that really is scary.

  • Share on Tumblr