Kazuo Ishiguro on Never Let Me Go

Author Kazuo Ishiguro

Kazuo Ishiguro is known as ‘Ish’ to his friends, as we learned from author Jonathan Coe at a film festival in Bridport, Dorset last night. Coe interviewed Ish, author of Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go among others, on the opening night of the From Page to Screen festival before a screening of last year’s Never Let Me Go adaptation.

During the Q and A Ish was asked about the 1993 adaptation of Remains of the Day and he revealed that John Cleese was initially considered for the lead role as butler Mr Stevens which was eventually taken by Anthony Hopkins. Others in the frame were Jeremy Irons (understandable) and Bob Hoskins (“not quite right” in Ishiguro’s own words).

“I’ve always wondered what [the film] would have been like with John Cleese,” said Ish. “I was very excited by the idea.”

At the time Cleese was hot as far as Hollywood was concerned from the success of A Fish Called Wanda and, as Ish diplomatically explained, US studios such as Columbia Pictures (now Sony) which funded Remains of the Day can only ever think of about two or three British actors big enough to take the American stage.

Of watching both film adaptations of his own novels Ishiguro said: “I forgot very quickly that I already knew the story,” which seems to be about as big a compliment as he could pay to the screenwriters Ruth Prawer Jabhvala (Remains of the Day) and Alex Garland (Never Let Me Go). He said it would be “like taking your A’Levels again” and about as much fun for a novelist to adapt their own work for the screen.

This festival is all about film adaptations of the written word and Ishiguro had this to say: “As a culture we [the British] haven’t figured out how to watch adaptations from novels.” Coe wondered whether this is because we constantly compare the film to the novel and vice versa. Ish agreed and suggested that, like a songwriter with a tune, he enjoys seeing other people’s versions of his work but he doesn’t confuse it with his own work.

As for Never Let Me Go I am still confused by the message, if there is one, of both novel and film. In a final interior monologue the narrator Kathy wonders whether the young people raised to donate their organs to medical science live better or worse lives than those who are saved by their donations. Does this translate as, what is the point of living? It’s a question that lots of thinking people want answered and which a few answer in their own ways.


Lambing Live on BBC 2

Lambing Live presenters Adam Henson and Kate Humble

Last year, Lambing Live was a guilty pleasure. This year I’m being more open about the fact that I’m watching these hour-long live broadcasts from a farm in Cumbria where more than 1,200 new lambs are being born in a few short weeks.

I say watching but as anyone else who has also tried to tune in will know, the programme has been beset by technical problems as wet and windy weather have blighted transmission from the Marstons’ farm. Last night the programme was off air for almost as long as it was on air while a remarkably calm and presumably studio-based continuity announcer thanked us for remaining with BBC 2 while the problems were sorted. Transmission was restored and presenters Kate Humble and Adam Henson were back on air. Meanwhile farmer Andrew Marston said they’d just heard a dry stone wall “rush” down in the weather, giving the family yet another job to look at in the morning.

I like Lambing Live for lots of reasons. It’s a first-hand insight into the world of farming which doesn’t get much positive media attention but which is worth millions to the economy. This particular farm rears sheep for stock breeding, hoping to produce a prize ram, while the Welsh farm featured on last year’s Lambing Live series bred lambs for meat.

The prices for a prize ram or bull (the Marstons also farm cattle) are amazing. One ram or tup was bought for £26,000. A prize bull at their local cattle market has been known to sell for £101,000. No wonder they were sanguine when a tup sold for a mere £6,000 earlier this year. “It could have gone for less but it could have gone for a lot more,” said Donald, Marston senior. I’d like to know what it cost to feed and keep the animal before it sold and therefore what the profit was on the £6k but I’m not surprised if the Marstons don’t want to share that information.

Although dairy cows have a different breeding cycle and don’t all calf at once as sheep apparently do, I would like to see a primetime programme about dairy farming. Living in Somerset, the home of Yeo Valley yoghurt among other dairy products, I’d like to know what sort of a deal dairy farmers get out of their dairy livestock and whether there’s a future for cows bred on fresh air and natural pasture. Our local news recently featured a farm where the cows are inside all year round, sitting in pens like outsize battery hens. That cannot be good, can it?