Film Review: The Children Act (2017)

The neglect of Stanley Tucci aside, The Children Act does a decent job of bringing Ian McEwan’s novel to the screen, with Emma Thompson on fine form

“I think it’s my choice
‘I’m afraid the law doesn’t agree'”

The first half of The Children Act is astounding. Family court judge Fiona Maye is utterly devoted to her career, deciding carefully but firmly on the most delicate of ruilngs. But the case of Adam Henry gives her cause, a 17 year old cancer victim whose Jehovah’s Witnesses’ beliefs are leading him to refuse the blood transfusion that could save his life.

As Maye, Emma Thompson makes you feel every inch of the emotional stoicism she has developed in order to rise through the judicial ranks so. There’s admiration sure but also a touch of apprehension – the brittleness with which she interacts with her devoted clerk (Jason Watkins) and the casual callousness with which she takes her long-suffering husband (Stanley Tucci) for granted.

For some reason, Adam’s case cuts through and as she makes a personal visit to his bedside, a fraught kind of intimacy develops between the pair. The stalkerish behaviour that ensues doesn’t have anywhere near the same intellectual rigour of what precedes it, though since it is Ian McEwan adapting his own novel here, it is clearly what he wants.

Richard Eyre’s film has an undoubted sheen of real quality to it, though it does almost tip over into starchiness on occasion, a dryness the upper-middle-class lives it depicts. But Fionn Whitehead does well as the troubled Adam, and Eyre has assembled quite the ensemble around his leads – Anthony Calf, Nikki Amuka-Bird and Michele Austin all standing out in their smaller roles. 

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