27 December 2011

The Children of Men by P.D. James - book and movie review

The Children of Men by P.D. James

Published: 1992
Pages: 256 (paperback)

Released: 2006
Runtime: 109 minutes

Genre: Dystopia

After starting this book, several readers and bloggers commented on the movie. I knew there was a movie, but I’d never seen it. Therefore this has become a double review – the book and the movie.

The Book

The human race has become infertile, and the last generation to be born is now adult. Civilization itself is crumbling as suicide and despair become commonplace. Oxford historian Theodore Faron, apathetic toward a future without a future, spends most of his time reminiscing. Then he is approached by Julian, a bright, attractive woman who wants him to help get her an audience with his cousin, the powerful Warden of England. She and her band of unlikely revolutionaries may just awaken his desire to live . . . and they may also hold the key to survival for the human race. 

The Children of Men is a book that paints a disturbing picture – if human beings ceased to be born, what would happen to the world? How would we continue to function, knowing that as a species, we are dying out? There are some sad, touching moments in this book – the mass suicide of the elderly (willing or not), women cherishing dolls as if they were babies, and kittens being christened as the ageing population try to find a substitute for childbirth and child-rearing.

The main character, Theo, is not instantly likeable, seemingly happy to be self-reliant and distanced from the people around him, teaching history to bored middle-aged women and reminiscing on his earlier years with his cousin Xan, Warden of England. However, as the story progresses, through his willingness to become involved with the underground who are striving to make the dying world a better place, even although on the surface he seems to most unlikely candidate for rebellion, and his particular way of caring for Julian, he develops into an intricate, fascinating character.

The writing is incredibly descriptive, perhaps for some readers overly so, and I had to call up my dictionary more than once.

There are some negatives to this book – I found the middle part to be incredibly slow-moving after a riveting start, however the action does pick up again. I also didn’t fully understand the relevance of The Painted Faces, and wanted to know more about what they represented and why they were terrorizing people so randomly.

However, The Children of Men is today also a relevant social commentary, as the average life-span of humans continues to grow, in places the elderly outnumber the young and in first world countries the birth rate steadily falls, how immigration is managed (or mismanaged) by wealthier countries and the trial and punishment of criminals is undertaken. Perhaps, after reading P.D. James’ dystopia, there could be some changed opinions

The Movie

In 2027, in a chaotic world in which humans can no longer procreate, a former activist agrees to help transport a miraculously pregnant woman to a sanctuary at sea, where her child's birth may help scientists save the future of humankind.

The Children of Men is set in world that is not that far away from todays world. Race riots and terrorist attacks have decimated the world, leaving the UK as the only ‘safe’ country in the world (at least according to British media!).

Voluntary suicide is legal, although weed remains illegal, but the expulsion of non-British citizens has led to a heavy military presence, demonstrations and a strong, radical, violent resistance.

The Children of Men is grim, gritty and shocking right from the very first scene, and doesn’t let up for the whole film. The main character, Theo, has a black past and isn’t doing much better in the current day, but forms strong bonds with those he can trust, those who need his protection and has a strong sense of right and wrong.

I jumped about 15 times watching this movie – I was completely immersed in the story telling and action sequences and the actors all had me totally believing in their characters – so when something unexpected happened I almost spilled my popcorn. There were also several moments when I found myself getting a little misty eyed (and that doesn’t often happen to me!).

And one ironic moment – the refugee camps are run by ‘Homeland Security’.


I didn’t know if I would, or even could, make a comparison between the book and the movie. They are different beasts, and apart from a few basic connections, could be considered completely seperate. The basis of the storyline is the same (human beings becoming infertile), some of the characters names are the same (Theo, Julian, Jasper, Miriam, Luke) and one scene of the movie has an almost direct quote from the book.

I liked the writing of the book, the wider focus on social issues that are current in today’s society, and the idea of how the end of human civilization could come about.

I liked the action of the movie, the focus on one particular social issue rather than many, and the actors had me completely believing in the characters and the story.


  1. Nice review there Kat, I'll have to read the book and watch the movie now. It seems like every time I visit your blog I end up adding another book to my TBR list :)

  2. I am not sure if it was ever acknowledged, but the storyline is very very similar to the earlier Greybeard by Brian Aldiss.

    Brian Aldiss is the author who coined the term Cosy catastrophe, and is fairly well known within the preceding generations sci-fi circles so it is not likely a complete coincidence.


  3. Thanks Russell - I love hearing about things like this - I'll definitely be checking out Greybeard.

  4. Your blog has been awarded The Versatile Blogger Award! :)

    Check out the details here - http://reviewingshelf.wordpress.com/2011/12/28/the-versatile-blogger-award/

  5. I completely agree with MissKimberlyStardust, I'm always adding new books to my list when I come here. Loved the comparison between the book and film!



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