Emma Thompson Leads the Way in “The Children Act”

The screenplay is intelligently written and unlike many films today, has respect for opposing points of view. In other words, it’s a film for grownups.

Adepero-OduyeA British high court judge tasked with making ethical decisions regarding the welfare of minors, is faced with a particularly difficult case when a teenager refuses medical treatment on religious grounds.

CAST: Emma Thompson (Fiona Maye), Stanley Tucci (Jack Maye), Fionn Whitehead (Adam Henry), Ben Chaplin (Kevin Henry)

Fiona Maye (Emma Thompson) is a high court judge in England who must rule on tough cases involving minors. For example, one of her cases involves the fate of conjoined twins. Does she allow the twins to be separated knowing in all likelihood that one will die so that the other may live? Or does she choose to prohibit the surgical procedure knowing that both will die as a result? Judge Maye handles these and other cases with tremendous efficiency.

The same is not true of her personal life. Her marriage to Jack (Stanley Tucci) is crumbling because she is so devoted to her work that she has neglected her husband. They haven’t had sex in months and if things don’t change soon, Jack threatens to have an affair. However, Jack’s demands and obvious frustration with their marriage is not enough to get Fiona to spend more time with him.

The screenplay is intelligently written and unlike many films today, has respect for opposing points of view. In other words, it’s a film for grownups.

One day, Fiona is faced with an unusual case. It involves Adam Henry (Fionn Whitehead), a young man who is only a few weeks from adulthood. He is suffering from leukemia. A simple blood transfusion will save his life, but as a Jehovah’s Witness such a procedure is strictly forbidden. Fiona takes the unusual step to visit Adam at the hospital to discuss the situation with him. Not only does Fiona discuss the potential consequences of not doing the blood transfusion, but the two form a bond by reciting poetry and singing together. Despite Fiona’s belief that Adam’s religious conviction is sincere and independent of his parents, she rules for him to have the procedure.

As a result of the blood transfusion, Adam’s health improves, but he develops an unhealthy obsession with Fiona. At the same time, Fiona must contend with her other obligations and her failing marriage.

Overall, the acting is first rate. Two time Academy Award winner Emma Thompson and newcomer Fionn Whitehead are particularly good. Their respective characters represent opposite sides of the ethical debate central to the film. Does the government have the right to force lifesaving treatment on someone even if it goes against his religious beliefs?

The film was capably directed by Richard Eyre, whose previous credits include 2001’s “Iris,” which received three Oscar nominations and one win for acting. However, as essentially a courtroom drama, “The Children Act” is fairly static in its presentation. In many ways it feels more like a play than a film. As a result, it’s rather talky and may test the patience of some audience members.

Ian McEwan adapted “The Children Act” from his 2014 novel of the same name. The title comes from a 1989 law that gives judges the authority to rule on tough ethical cases involving children. The screenplay is intelligently written and unlike many films today, has respect for opposing points of view. In other words, it’s a film for grownups.

If you’re craving a thoughtful film that is unafraid to examine difficult issues from both sides, see it either in the theater or at home. On the other hand, if you require a fair amount of action and cheap thrills, you’re best to look for another movie.

The Children Act will be available on demand beginning Tuesday, September 11th. It will also be available on Friday, September 14th in limited theatrical markets. The film is rated R and is being released by A24. For more information visit its official website.

Trailer below:

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