Daisy (Saoirse Ronan – Byzantium) is an American teenager who has been shipped off to England by her Dad to visit her aunt. She lives in the English countryside, a place that’s a far cry from the city life Daisy is used to. Her aunt holds a very important government job and is called away on business just a day after Daisy arrives, leaving her in a house full of kids that she doesn’t know. Just then, a third world war breaks out and leaves the kids stranded. Daisy must find a way to hide, fight and survive if she is to make it through the horrors of war.
How I Live Now is an accomplished drama from director Kevin Mcdonald, whose past credits include Touching The Void, The Last King Of Scotland and State Of Play. It’s adapted to the screen from the Meg Rosoff novel. Mirroring the dread that associated all the nuclear fallout public TV announcements (that were very common in British homes during the 70’s and early 80’s), How I Live Now crafts a very involving love story amongst the devastation of war. It handles a tough subject with tact and remarkable restraint whilst cleverly using the setting to create a thrilling, depressing but always watchable drama.
If you needed any more proof that Saoirse Ronan is the future of young acting, look no further. After stellar work in big projects like Hanna, Byzantium and The Lovely Bones, Ronan has become a name you can trust and in How I Live Now, she further cements her crown as the most impressive actress of her generation.
Ronan is sensational in the film and gives the story a very real and believable presence. Daisy reacts just as you’d expect a teenager top react to such devastation and war but she always keeps her emotions in check. It’s a performance that clearly shows her scope because she portrays angst and desperation just with her eyes or a fleeting glance. It’s a supremely confident display from the Irish Oscar nominee.
Elsewhere, the film features good supporting turns from its young cast including Tom Holland, Harley Bird and George MacKay. The dynamic they all share is believable and helps make the audience vested in their plight. Especially the slow-burn love story that develops between Ronan and MacKay.
The film generates a tremendous amount of dread by showing very little. The immediate events that precede the war are tantalisingly teased in the background as we focus on Daisy adjusting to life in the English countryside. A sensation sequence that dramatises the after-effects of a bomb going off in one of the neighbouring cities is chilling and wonderfully handled too. Then there are the horrors of seeing how war has affected the land. The scene where Daisy stumbles upon a mass grave of young soldiers will stay with you for some time.
How I Live Now will be remembered as a very well made movie that tried to do something different. Whilst there are unanswered questions in the narrative, there is still plenty to give young audiences something that feels genuine and real. Paired against stories like Twilight, at least How I Live Now makes an effort to address real world issues, harsh realities of life, growing pains and teen angst in a truthful and clever way. It won’t be to everyone’s taste but How I Live Now is a fine addition to the young adult genre that deserves a big audience.