The Children Act (2017) ****

August 24th, 2018
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir: Richard Eyre | Writers: Richard Eyre, Ian McEwan | Cast: Emma Thompson, Stanley Tucci, Fion Whitehead | UK Drama | 105′

THE CHILDREN ACT is the kind of chewy intelligent drama you’d expect to made by a French director with its adult themes all sprinkled lightly with thoughtful insight and some of the wittiest lines this Summer, if not this year.

This is mainly due to Emma Thompson who plays Fiona Maye, a judge who must decide whether to force a blood transfusion on a patient  – just short of his 18 birthday – who has refused treatment due to being a Jehovah’s Witness.

But in her personal life things are more cut and dried. When her husband (a thoughtful Stanley Tucci) broaches the subject of having an affair she simple tells him to pack a bag. And so he does. The narrative beats as it sweeps until it comes to the more subtle differences between ethical and moral dilemmas. And that’s where Justice Maye has her work cut in navigating the subtle complexities of what The Law states and what her heart dictates. Justice May is a fabulous role that could also have been played by Kristen Scott Thomas – but Emma Thompson carries it off with that knowing insouciance tempered with deep empathy that shines out in each scene and carries the film through some awkward moments when it could have come of the rails ending up in sentimental sidings. The essence here is entertainment. Richard Eyre and his co-writer McEwan (on whose book the film is based) have managed to touch on some thorny issues without going for an out and out crusade and keeping the narrative firmly focused on Maye and her fully-rounded but conflicted life as a High Court Judge dealing with a difficult time in her marriage and some buried emotional baggage. Stanley Tucci has a less rewarding role as her husband who can’t work how to seduce her anymore, away for the absorbing and demanding nature of her work. As such he comes across as an acolyte who could appear lightweight and rather superfluous but clearly has the maturity to realise that his love and warmth is what carries her through. It’s a tricky role, but Tucci pulls it off. Fionn Whitehead is terrific as the troubled boy and there’s a leanness to the narrative and dialogue that keeps you on your toes without ever pressing the point. In the early scenes Eyre quickly establishes the couple’s professional credentials: in the high octane world of Law, she is an articulate decision-maker; he a talented lecturing professor. But their life is in crisis due to time management of their demanding careers. Hers is more demanding than his.

The film also offers an intriguing and convincing look inside the contemporary legal system, tripping lightly over the day to day issues that confront a judge from taking off her MaxMara coat at chambers to getting home and gracefully kicking off her Roger Vivier shoes for a strong glass of red. And naturally our Emma pulls this off with aplomb and is a delight to look at times resembling her mother Phyllida Law. Both still ravishing.

Eyre underlines two important things in THE CHILDRENS ACT: that what kids really need is wise inspiration rather than limitless personal freedom. And that sometimes it is cruel to be kind – despite our best intentions. And despite the film’s minor flaws – and they rest largely with you’re own judgement – this is enjoyable. MT




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