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Children of Men

Year: 2006
Studio: Universal
Director: Alfonso Cuaron
Writer: P D James/Alfonso Cuaron
Cast: Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Chiwetel Ejiofor
I abandoned P D James' novel soon after starting it years ago and if it was as good as this film, I'm sorry I did.

The problem was that I thought James was like Agatha Christie, and I had no idea the book was science fiction despite being set in the future and dealing with the infertility of humankind.

As it turns out, she was not only a sci-fi author but (like Arthur C Clarke) years ahead of her time. If Children of Men had just been a movie to come out in the early 21st century, we could have viewed it as a reflexive reaction to the new paranoia and government control we now live under. But like George Orwell, James was envisioning a world of fear and despair few of us could imagine in the early 1990s.

Cuaron joins the fray by directing a blistering, stark, horrific, poignant and low-key version of James' idea, and it's one of the richest and best science fiction films of recent times.

It's the near future and mankind has been inexplicably rendered infertile. As a consequence, society is on the verge of collapse and all hope for the future has seeped out of the world with the knowledge that the human race won't exist in little more than half a century.

Either because of or in tandem with the imminent death of our species is a quasi-totalitarian world where the UK is apparently the only functioning country left, ruled by an iron fist that purges all foreigners by herding them into bleak refugee camps before deportation, the country torn apart by factional violence.

Theo (Owen) epitomises the mood. After a past as an activist with lover Julian (Moore), the accidental death of his son during protests have destroyed him, and he moves zombie-like through his life and menial job, barely even caring when the youngest person alive is killed in a bar brawl - an event that numbs the rest of the world.

Theo tries to keep out of the way of the civil unrest, violence and repression when Julian seeks him out, now part of an underground society dedicated to freedom.

He reluctantly goes with her to discover their mission - a pregnant woman is carrying a baby and they intend to deliver her to the Human project, an Oz-like paradise offshore nobody is even sure exists.

When the rebels are ambushed and Julian is killed, Theo has to go on the lam with them. Holed up in their rural hideaway, he discovers it was them who killed her, and that their actions are as nefarious as the government and any other violent interest group.

He takes the woman and goes on the run, trying to make it to the coastal refugee camp that will provide their passage to the Human Project.

Owen once again cements his strengthening charisma as a leading man, but Cuaron is the real star. Taking cues from World War II movies full of war torn streets, shelled buildings and chaos rather than ray guns and technology, it's more Saving Private Ryan than pure sci-fi. The design only adds to the realism and makes the whole thing more believable and the characters more flesh and blood.

The much talked-about steadicam shot following Theo through the warzone of Bexhill is only one of the production design standouts; another is the sequence of the rebel ambush taken from in the middle of the getaway car.

Brilliant in every respect, and together with a few other sci-fi projects for adults around right now, it puts traditional, classical sci-fi back on the map.

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