Young Irish actor Saoirse Ronan is excellent, as usual, in How I Live Now, based on Meg Rosoff’s young adult novel.
Sadly, she’s more convincing than the film itself, in which she plays Daisy, a sullen 16-year-old American girl sent to England to live with her aunt and cousins in their idyllic rural property.
She starts by fighting off their good spirits and polite welcomes, refusing to have fun. She is even rude to her cousin Edmond (George McKay), despite their obvious mutual attraction. You can assume that, as with all such movies, she will eventually soften and become a more contented person, madly in love with Edmond.
And you’d be right. As it turns out, this turnaround happens rather quickly, allowing us to shift to the real action. This isn’t just a coming-of-age drama, or it wouldn’t be on this website. Daisy’s Aunt Penn (a cameo by Anna Chancellor), working on delicate peace negotiations, flies urgently to Geneva, arranging someone else to care for them. This person never shows up, however, as World War III suddenly begins. Presumably Aunt Penn didn’t do so well.
Before long, Britain is under martial law, with the kids taken from their happy existence and forced to work for the war effort. Originally a cheery teen drama, it becomes a dystopian tale with terrorist attacks and mounds of corpses.
In case you are still unconvinced of its sci-fi credentials (and while it is certainly speculative fiction, it all seems chillingly possible so far), it is also established in early scenes that Daisy and Edmond communicate by ESP. Even when they are separated by the war, Daisy still knows where to find her true love, and will walk across Britain to be with him, with her younger cousin Piper (Harley Bird), in tow.
Despite the telepathy-filled teen Children Of Men vibes, it’s the first part of the film – the family tale between the moody Yank and the relentlessly cheerful Brits – that is most convincing.
It is only once World War III starts that everything starts to go downhill – for both the characters and the audience.