A London Film Festival Gala screening (i.e. free water and choccy bar – which I felt so guilty about eating while the characters on screen starve, I didn’t consume until the following day) followed by a Q+A with the film-makers and Viggo Mortensen.

John Hillcoat’s (The Proposition) adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s (No Country For Old Men) novel is a faithful one indeed, honouring the book’s bluntness and frankness to create a very honest (one would imagine) depiction of a non-descript apocalyptic American wasteland and a father and son’s journey across it. It’s certainly more flashback-reliant than the original source material, but never to the extent that questions are unnecessarily answered or the overall mood is diluted.

If you’ve read the book, you’ll know what to expect – perhaps to the film’s detriment in that the impact is somewhat lessened. Either I’ve been too desensitised or just knew the tone of the book so well that I was not as shocked or upset as I might have been going in cold. But it’s still hard not to be impressed with just how matter-of-fact yet beautifully told the story is. I had imagined a bleaker, more ash-ridden world, but this imagining of the world of the novel still manages to be both grounded in reality and often awe-inspiring, using real post-Katrina landscapes to create a sense of a land bereft of humanity, both in its physical and metaphysical forms.

Mortensen is every bit as believable, intense and watchable as in his work with Cronenberg and Kodi Smit-McPhee (soon to appear in the American version of Let The Right One In) is pretty much perfect, exactly how you’d expect a child to behave in such an impossible situation while never falling into the trap of acting ‘beyond their years’ – so much so that a day after the screening, I saw families with little kids in big coats and woolly hats and I got a little emotional, feeling a sudden paternal urge to protect them from the apocalypse! Add to that an impeccable supporting cast populated by well-known faces in bit-part roles (a near un-recognisable Robert Duvall may have less screen time than Judi Dench in Shakespeare in Love, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he got a supporting nom come Oscar time).

If you can imagine a cross somewhere between the end of The Mist and the start of Wall-E, then The Road is close to that. Though its setting and content is ostensibly bleak, there is a beauty and a purpose to it that transcends the darkness to make for a strangely uplifting and poignant piece of work.

The Road is released in the UK on January 8th 2010.