When booktuber, Adam at Memento Mori set up a book club, where one reads a book and then watches the adaptation over the course of a year, I was quite eager to participate. Although I’m pretty good on the book side, I’m quite lacking when it comes to films but out of the 12 books, I’ve only read 2 and out of the 12 films, I’ve only seen 2 so I was keen to educate myself.
This month the book was P.D. James’ 1992 novel The Children of Men, which was adapted by Alphonse Cuaron in 2006. I had watched the film in 2011 and I liked it and it was definitely time for a re-watch. I had never read the book though, or for that matter, P.D. James.
The book takes places in a futuristic world, that is not so different from the current one however all males have lost the ability to reproduce. In the meantime Britain is being run by the dictator Xan Lyppiatt whose version of Britain consists of public euthanasia, Kittens have replaced children, pornography is endorsed by the state, immigrants are exploited and all prisoners, regardless of crime are sent to a penal colony on the Isle of Man.
Enter Theo Faron, a disillusioned, newly divorced professor, who happens to be Xan’s first cousin and his former adviser. Due to his connection he meets a group of rebels who want to Theo to discuss the possibility of changing some of the laws with Xan. As one can expect this does not work. As Theo returns to inform the group he finds out that one of the members is pregnant and the group have to get the girl to a safe place so that she can give birth.
P.D. James is primarily known as a writer of thrillers and although, Children of Men is different from her usual style, it is gripping. There are twists in the narrative, not to mention some parts that make you sweat. Ultimately though the novel is about the balance of Male power and the role religion and faith can play in an increasingly secular society. There’s also a political edge as one of the fighters is intending to take over the government, howeer as he discusses his policies, we find out that they are exactly the same as Xan’s – shades of Animal Farm here.
Cuaron’s adaptation is a loose one: in fact he does away with all of P.D. James’ hidden messages and turns the film into an extended road trip into a dystopian future. I will admit that when a book ditches the message it annoys me, so I found this film to suffer from style over substance. Here are my qualms:
The reason why Males are infertile is because James wants to show that this new future is a female orientated one. In the film Cuaron makes women infertile – inexcusable in my opinion and missing the point of the title.
The book does not focus a road trip, it essentially is a political thriller – the road trip itself is minimal. Cuaron makes the road trip the focal point. Again this is missing the point.
Cuaron scraps the religious elements of the book. As the title is part of the baptismal creed and an ironic statement on future generations. Since is not included in the film then, again. the whole title loses it’s meaning.
To speak in favour of the film, it does update the world P.D. James creates. For Cuaron it is grittier. The use of dull grey is excellent and there are some spectacular countryside scenes. I did also like the way Cuaron turned euthanasia into a branded form of self suicide. I also preferred Michael Caine’s reinterpretation of Theo’s mentor Jasper, whereas in the book it falls flat.
The book wins. Hands down. It’s an exciting thriller that covers a lot of the problems that are still present today. The characters, with the exception of Theo and Xan, are not well developed but the strong plot compensates. The film is muddled but pretty looking with some tweaks but I would have called it Masculine road trip or something like that, rather than Children of Men.