There are moments peppered throughout Richard Eyre’s The Children Act that don’t feel entirely organic to much of the surrounding story, but such is the strength of Emma Thompson that we can ultimately forgive these out-of-character instances in an otherwise fine, adult-aimed drama.
One of the particular moments involves Thompson’s no-nonsense judge and a teenager recovering from leukaemia (Fionn Whitehead, last effectively seen in Dunkirk), a moment near-doused in intimacy that, whilst somewhat tender, feels comically out-of-place in a film that plays everything straight.
Whilst the film’s B-plot arc involving Thompson’s Fiona Maye’s distress at the notion of her husband (Stanley Tucci) having an affair – something he is alarmingly upfront about pursuing – would make this aforementioned moment somewhat justifiable, how she and said teenager, Adam, come to cross paths makes the mere thought of a romantic entanglement all the more absurd.
Overtly stressed in her job as a judge in the High Court of Justice of England and Wales, the film opens on Fiona deciding whether or not a case of conjoined twins being separated can legally be classed as murder as the operation to sever the two will result in the death of one and the survival of another, as opposed to the death of both should the operation not go ahead.
Due to her work being all consuming we’re supposed to almost feel unsurprised when husband Jack says he plans on having an affair due to there being an 11-month period of non-sexual activity between himself and Fiona; “I could have gone behind your back” is his justification.
Though the film seems to set up Jack’s intended affair as The Children Act‘s main focus it ultimately falls to the wayside (and sadly wasted Tucci in the process) when Fiona is presented with a new case. Adam, a Jehovah’s Witness, being under the age of 18-years means, despite his faith, the courts are allowed to decide for him in their bid to green-light a blood transfusion which will drastically assist him as he combats leukaemia.
Being a Jehovah’s Witness though means he and his parents (Ben Chaplin and Eileen Walsh) object to this procedure – their beliefs indicate blood is where the soul resides – and whilst the situation at hand is an emotional one, legally there really only appears to be one answer.
As Adam’s particular case is wrapped up quicker than we expect, the film then bends on a different path where Fiona and Adam intertwine, though she is vehemently against any interaction, despite her obvious connection to the young man whose new lease on life has him questioning his own faith.
The film occasionally threatens to veer into melodrama with Adam’s obsession over Fiona feeling like it belongs in another story act altogether, but Thompson, dedicated as she is, manages to make it all seem plausible with an emotional turn that refuses to buckle under the film’s weaker choices.
Had the film exorcised Jack’s marital complaints and Adam’s romantic inclination and instead focused on the court case and both the legal and moral complications that would arise, The Children Act could’ve been an immensely investing drama. Whilst the film still proves watchable and absorbing enough to warrant a recommendation (Thompson really is that good), it falls short of being something truly unmissable.
About The Children Act
As her marriage begins to fracture, high court judge Fiona Maye (Emma Thompson) is forced to make a terrible decision. Should she force a teenage boy to accept a blood transfusion that will save his life, despite his parents being Jehovah’s witnesses?
The Children Act (M) is screening in Australian theatres from November 22nd 2018.