Verdict on The Children Act
I found the book of The Children Act by Ian McKewan thought-provoking and powerful, so I had high hopes for the film, for which he also wrote the screen play and which stars one of my favourite actresses, (now, rightly, Dame) Emma Thompson. I defy anyone who saw her in Love Actually not to have the crying in the bedroom scene seared on their memory.
The story centres around a case brought before eminent high court judge, Fiona May (Emma's character) in which a hospital is seeking permission to give a blood transfusion to a seventeen year old (and therefore still legally a child) boy, Adam, played by Fionn Whitehead, who is refusing the treatment because he and his family are Jehovah's Witnesses. In a secondary plot, the judge's childless marriage to academic Stanley Tucci, is slowly unravelling as he rails against the lack of physical affection between them (he has made a note in his diary of the last time they made love - over 11 months ago) and declares he's intending to have an affair.
It's not giving away any secrets (but scroll through this paragraph if you don't know, or want to know) to say that the judge rules in favour of the hospital, although only after paying a highly unusual visit to Adam's bedside in order to see for herself whether he fully understands the decision he's making.
So far, so reasonably intense and plausible (setting aside the fact that, as Adam himself points out, there was never any doubt that would be her ruling based on the requirements of the Children Act, which states that the wellbeing of the child must be the paramount consideration)
It's when Adam, a sensitive, intelligent teenager, recovers that things start to get more dramatically shaky. In an increasingly desperate attempt to make sense of the life he didn't think he'd have, he pursues the judge, pressing her with questions, letters, poetry and more.
Whilst Fiona rebuffs him firmly but gently, it's clear that the young man has punctured her brusque, professional shell and touched an emotional nerve. Whether her feelings are connected to the child she never had herself, or of another sort, is deliberately unclear, but after a taut first half, this part of the film feels less plausible and therefore effective. And the ending (which I won't give away, don't worry) doesn't fully banish those reservations.
What is in absolutely no doubt, however, is the power of Emma Thompson's performance. The posters claim it to be a career best and for once that's not hype. It is the emotional and compelling lynch-pin of the film, and whilst the supporting cast, especially Fionn as the emotionally oscillating teenager, and Stanley as the emotionally under-served husband, with the thinnest of roles to work with (how refreshing for it to be a man in that situation!), are top-notch, it's Emma who holds both centre stage and the film together. This is an actress who can convey a changing raft of emotions with just the slightest flicker of her wonderfully expressive face (no surgical intervention for this great Dame. She's nearly sixty and looks it, in the best possible way).
Taking into account all the evidence, I'd certainly recommend The Children Act; for Emma Thompson's performance alone. If she doesn't at least get a collection of nominations when it comes to award season, there's no justice. And whilst I wouldn't give it my unanimous vote (I know, I know. There's only one of me so how can I not be unanimous? But go with me on the legal analogy here. I'm enjoying it anyway) I'd present the evidence to you that this is a film that will at the very least leave you thinking about the power of self determination, the influence of the law and the vulnerability of the human heart.
I'd love to know your verdict if you see it.
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