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Film Review: The Children Act

4 September 18 words: Alicia Lansom

Emma Thompson impresses in Richard Eyre's adaptation of Ian McEwan's novel, but we're not entirely convinced The Children Act is well suited for the big screen...

Director: Richard Eyre

Starring: Emma Thompson, Stanley Tucci, Fionn Whitehead

Running time: 105 mins

In Richard Eyre’s screen adaptation of Ian McEwan’s novel The Children Act, Emma Thompson plays high court judge Fiona May. Extremely successful in her profession, Fiona appears composed and levelheaded but behind closed doors her personal life is hanging by a thread.

Her husband, Jack (Stanley Tucci) is neglected due to her heavy workload, often complaining about their lack of intimacy and making references to their happier younger days. But for Fiona, her priorities lie with her work, staying up late to work on difficult cases, which in the most part concern the lives of children.

Eventually, Jack loses his patience and in a very blunt and matter of fact speech, informs her that he’s thinking of having an affair. As Fiona sits amongst a pile of court papers he explains “it’s not just about sex. We don’t even kiss any more.” Clearly, blind sighted by his announcement, Fiona disregards his accusations of marital problems which causes Jack to pack his bags and leave.

But there is little time for Fiona to process this, as she soon receives a call informing her that a young boy Adam Henry (Fionn Whitehead), a Jehovah’s Witness with leukaemia is refusing a blood transfusion. At 17 years old he is still classed as a minor under the Children Act, leaving Fiona to decide between respecting the teenager and his families religious beliefs or intervening to save his life.

Despite a sensitive performance from its lead actor, the film feels as though it would have been better suited as a one-off TV drama rather than a film for the big screen

She decides due to the sensitive nature of the case to visit Adam at the hospital and discuss his decision to refuse treatment in person. At his bedside she sings the words of a Yeats poem as he plays the guitar, and they connect over a love of music.

But soon after the court ruling, it becomes clear that Adam has become somewhat obsessed with the judge, stalking her and sending countless letters to her chambers. With her marriage in pieces, Fiona battles with welcoming the attention and being entirely overwhelmed by it. But the problem spirals out of control when Adam follows her to Newcastle and turns up at her hotel demanding answers, clearly confused between feelings of infatuation and a longing for guidance.

As always, Emma Thompson plays her role with intelligence and feeling, conveying the character’s internal moral dilemma brilliantly. Yet despite a sensitive performance from its lead actor, the film feels as though it would have been better suited as a one-off TV drama rather than a film for the big screen. Very rarely do any sequences feel cinematic, and the excessive focus on Fiona’s marriage interferes with the impact of the wider story.

Overall, the idea of one decision having unexpected long-term consequences was an interesting premise, but the film didn’t have enough of a storyline to explore the concept fully. The film discusses the responsibility we have as individuals and questions the duty of care our legal system has to those affected by its rulings, but without much for its actors to sink their teeth into, only manages to do so at a surface level.

The Children Act is screening at Broadway Cinema until Thursday 6 September

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