It's happened: nuclear war. It has devastated the world, and left Ann Burden (Margot Robbie) completely alone on the planet except for her pet dog; she has survived because she lived in a valley in the United States that was preserved thanks to a quirk of geography that sees it untouched and self-sufficient, an oasis in the irradiated land. Ann has her radiation suit and uses it to explore the towns surrounding the valley, gathering supplies and anything that might help her survive, but last winter was particularly harsh, and she could do with some help to get her through this existence - then she catches sight of a man in his own radiation suit on a nearby lane.
This is John Loomis, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, and he is delighted to see the readings on his counter tell him he can live here without his suit, so what does he do? Jumps into the nearest river, not realising he has made a mistake for the waterfall he is under channels irradiated water from outside the valley. The question of what happens when it rains sufficiently glossed over, we had an adaptation of Robert C. O'Brien's semi-classic novel of the apocalypse, or rather the post-apocalypse, which had a previous version produced for the BBC’s Play for Today strand in 1984, a presentation that was by all accounts a lot more faithful to the book than this ever was.
The problem being that the script was not too interested in adapting Z for Zachariah, it was more keen on a remake of the fifties science fiction effort The World, the Flesh and the Devil which had wondered as the Civil Rights issues in America were brewing, what would happen if the only three people left alive on the planet were a black man, a white woman and a white man - would they be able to set aside their differences and get on, or would the old rivalries and prejudices re-emerge? Of course, this was nothing to do with what O'Brien had written about, his text more concerned with science versus nature than some amorous arguments that were lazily dreamt up for this.
It was a pity, because a version of the book starring Ejiofor and Robbie, who were the sole characters originally, was an intriguing prospect, but too often this fell back on concocting conflicts that quickly lapsed into cliché, such as science versus religion (Ann is the pious one, Loomis is the boffin), or more wearisome, a love triangle. The third corner of that was Chris Pine playing Caleb, a chap who has somehow survived travelling through the supposedly deadly landscape after emerging from a mine and only needs a bath to feel right as rain once again. Well, maybe not rain. Anyway, considering exposure to the poisoned water left Loomis in a bad way that only medication and weeks of rest could fix, all administered by Ann, you could tell Caleb was a hastily thought through addition since he didn't quite fit in with the rest of it.
Given Z for Zachariah has been a set text in schoolrooms across the globe for decades with it now what would be called Young Adult fiction, though nobody called it that back in the seventies when it was drawn together from the recently-deceased O'Brien's notes, it was a major missed opportunity not to create a film a lot more faithful, especially when what had been stuck on instead was far less provocative or indeed exciting. The cast were fine, but that simply had you yearning for a more interesting project for them to appear in, and sure enough after a few festival dates it was barely released, with some big territories not getting it at all - in Britain, it debuted on television. It was an attractive-looking picture, you would give it that, though it didn't look especially post-apocalyptic, more like an advert for cereal bars with all that rural imagery, and it drew to a close with an ambiguous cut-off that solved nothing and would likely have you considering you could have spent your time with a better ninety-minute movie. Music by Heather McIntosh.