The children at Hailsham, this picturesque and isolated boarding school in 1970s England, have their destinies laid out for them. They just don't know it yet.
Kathy H. (played by the remarkable Izzy Meikle-Small, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Carey Mulligan, the actress who plays the grown-up version of her) and her classmates are happily unaware of the fate that awaits them. They study, play and take good care of their health, all under the stern gaze of the headmistress, played by the first-rate Charlotte Rampling.
The three young classmates are involved in a love triangle, but it would hardly seem to matter who ended up with whom, given that their ultimate fates are predestined.
Then again, since they -- like all of us -- have only a finite number of days on earth, wouldn't it behoove everyone to make the most of our allotment? That's just one of the big, intriguing questions posed in this atmospheric and melancholy movie.
The whole premise -- once we learn Hailsham's secret -- seems a little scifi, until you remember the shameful Tuskegee experiments our own government was responsible for. The secret is horrifying, and all the more so since it's plausible.
Keira Knightley and Andrew Garfield (seen recently in The Social Network) do well at playing mournful, lonely and resigned young adults, but the movie belongs to Mulligan. See it.