Release: 21st January 2019
Format: BR / DVD
The Children Act is a compelling and powerful drama telling the story of Fiona Maye (Emma Thompson), an eminent high court judge presiding over ethically complex cases. As the demands of her job cause her marriage to Jack (Stanley Tucci) to reach tipping point, Fiona is asked to rule on the case of Adam (Fionn Whitehead), a brilliant young boy who is refusing a life-saving blood transfusion on religious grounds. With her private life in turmoil, Fiona finds herself drawn into the case, taking the unorthodox step of halting proceedings in order to visit Adam in hospital. As the two form a profound connection and powerful emotions come to light, Fiona’s judgement is put to the test with momentous consequences as she must ultimately decide whether Adam lives or dies.
The Children Act feels like the greatest hits of Ian McEwan’s themes. It is equal part Enduring Love and Atonement, with all of the hallmarks of director Richard Eyre’s Notes on a Scandal. Yet despite a well-rounded central performance from Emma Thompson, The Children Act never rises to the giddy height of its promise; leaving a sense of half-baked accomplishments and missed opportunities.
Most distinctly a film of two halves, The Children Act feels more engaging in its moral complexity-come-court room drama, than it is in the stalky weirdness of Fionn Whitehead’s wide-eyed creeping about. Ironically, the biggest miss of the film is a side narrative involving a sexually repressed Stanley Tucci; missing the companionship of his professionally affluent wife. Had the film spun more in this direction once the dust had settled on Adam’s ruling, The Children Act might have actually flourished in to a rather engaging watch. But that would mean ignoring McEwan’s source material, so maybe the issue here is less about the narrative merits and more about Richard Eyre’s sloppy and flat direction. Caught somewhere between an ITV special and a straight-to-demand turkey, The Children Act has the look and feel of something way beneath the sum of its parts.
So, it is Emma Thompson, then, who keeps propelling the film forward as Fiona. Caught in arrested development of emotional paralysis, the nuanced erosion of a woman hiding behind layers of distraction is maybe at times a little too nuanced. Yet Thompson carries the weight of the film, swinging from cold doyenne to fragile matron, all the while tunnelling to an emotional finale that resonates a lot less than it should; despite her laudable performance.
Film Grade: C-
Some bog-standard interviews that feel like minimal effort for a film that is almost impossible to get in any format other than DVD.
Special Features Grade: D-
Half a film or half a plot. Whatever the problem is, you’ll only give half a crap.