I think all the faults I could find with How I Live Now stem from the position of my perception and not from the film itself. And faults aside, it starts from a position of strength by blaring Amanda Palmer‘s Do It With A Rockstar over the opening credits, which was always going to win me over. Anyway, the story…
Saoirse Ronan plays Daisy (or Elizabeth), a surly city-chick from New York sent to the British countryside to stay with her aunt and cousins for the summer. She perceives it as being ditched, making room in her father’s house for his new wife and young child, and so (understandably) arrives with a massive chip on her shoulder. Her negativity is slowly worn down by her relentlessly positive younger cousins, all of whom are determined to enjoy all of the joys the countryside has to offer. She’s most effectively won over by the strong, silent cousin Edmund, to who she takes an unspoken shine from the first minute. Hovering in the background is an indeterminate threat, which suddenly comes crashing into the forefront when a country picnic gets hit by a nuclear winter from a massive attack on London. Martial law is declared and the children are whisked away from their country home and split up with the boys taken one way and the girls another. Daisy and Edmund promise to escape and make their way back to the house they’d been sharing and… well, let’s leave it there…
The film is shot through with the overpowering emotions felt during the teenage years, along with the absolute certainty of the right thing to do which I doubt many people feel all that regularly once they hit their 20s and beyond, and as such I can see how much more the film may have appealed to me when I was that age or, to an even greater extent, to teenage girls. Watching as an adult it’s difficult to view without seeing through the naivety of the decision making, without tutting or adding your own soundtrack of “Why didn’t you do…”, but that’s not to complain about the film.
The film is beautifully made, shot through with true characters – and it’s important to point out that all the decisions these children make totally ring true with who they are painted to be – and an uncomfortable feeling of authenticity. The foreshadowing is done perfectly, never truly drawing attention to the threats that exist in the background while equally never letting them disappear, and there are some genuinely terrifying moments.
The film has struggled at the box office but I can easily imagine it having a long life at home and being discovered by a new generation of teenagers each year.
Film length: 1 hour 41 minutes
Feels like: 1 hour 40 minutes