The basic idea — from a novel by P.D. James, a departure from her detective fiction — of a worldwide plague of female infertility, even though not at all original (see The Handmaid's Tale, as a prime example), remains nevertheless a potent metaphor for that science-fiction staple, the End of the World; and the film can thus sensibly refrain from hashing over the significance of a miraculous pregnancy in England, as inexplicable as the plague itself, eighteen years after its onset in 2008. A potent metaphor, that, for Hope, even Faith. (The young black woman's deadpan protestation of virginity is of course only her own little joke. What she is carrying is not the Second Coming of Christ so much as that of Adam. Or, as it happens, Eve.) Because the world went so fast to hell so near in the future — "Only Britain soldiers on" — the film is not overburdened with production and special effects. It shoulders just sufficient texture and detail for an illusion of reality: the unswept litter and uncollected trash in the streets, the electronic animated billboards, the pirated artworks preserved for no one's edification at the Tate Modern, the gratis government-issued suicide kits (brand name: Quietus; ad slogan: "You Decide When"), the concentration camps for illegal aliens, etc. There is really not much in the way of a story — underground dissidents squiring the expectant mother through chaotic countryside to an offshore rendezvous with a shadowy do-good organization known as the Human Project — but Clive Owen, the principal squirer, an uncommitted mercenary, has the ideal demeanor for the grimness of the mission; and the trek is nothing if not eventful, a mild word for an itinerary that includes three virtuoso action set pieces. If the camera sometimes calls attention to itself with its showboat mobility, and at one point with its blood-spattered lens, the staging of the action is always thorough and thought-out. As, for that matter, is the staging of the nonaction, in particular the hero's interplay with his ex-wife (Julianne Moore) and an aged flower-child friend (Michael Caine), abubble with emotional undercurrents. Director Alfonso Cuarón's moderation in the use of closeups, a rarer and rarer thing these days, disdains the easy way out. With Chiwetel Ejiofor and Claire-Hope Ashitey. 2006.

4.0 stars

— Duncan Shepherd

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