Set in the very near future, How I Live Now depicts the outbreak of a war in England from the point of view of a rebellious American teenage girl, Daisy (Saoirse Ronan) who is sent to the British countryside to live with her Aunt (Anna Chancellor) and cousins. Initially resentful, she finds herself falling in love with Eddie (George MacKay) just as London is wiped out in a nuclear attack that is harrowingly depicted here. Given instructions to vacate their home, Eddie moves his brother (Tom Holland), sister (Harley Bird) and Daisy to a barn at the back of their property where they continue their idealistic young lives until they’re taken by force by English soldiers for relocation. With the men separated from the girls, Daisy and Eddie vow to escape and meet each other back at the farm, setting in motion the horrifying and gripping journey that forms the second half of the film.
Directed by one of the most talented directors in modern film making, Kevin Macdonald, the film is both originally conceived and brilliantly handled. He films the first half of Daisy’s arrival with a suitably rock’n’roll aesthetic – complete with quick cuts and eclectic musical choices – that perfectly establishes the world these characters inhabit and the singular perspective of Daisy through which the audience experiences it. From this first half, MacDonald seamlessly segues into the somber and tragic second. He pulls no punches in his depiction of war and its costs, and keeps the characters constantly at the forefront so that we’re experiencing their ordeal with them. He isn’t afraid to ask the big questions either, making it clear that the British soldiers who round up the women and put them into work camps aren’t exactly the good guys.
The performances from an almost entirely young cast are excellent. Ronan and MacKay both bring a warmth and charisma to their roles that allows the audience to empathize with and understand them; and also makes up for some one-dimensional writing in establishing them to begin with. Indeed, with a story as thematically complex as this, it’s the early part of the film where the two main characters are introduced to us as simply an ‘unlikeable punk’ and a ‘mature young man who has a special unspoken relationship with animals’, that disappoints the most. It gets past these early growing pains fast enough and the film roles along perfectly afterwards.
Moving, incredibly made and refreshingly mature for a film aimed presumably at the teen market, How I Live Now is a minor masterpiece that you’ll remember days after watching it.
How Do I Live Now is in Australian cinemas from 28 November through Madman Films.