In The Children Act, the inimitable Emma Thompson stars as a High Court judge caught in the midst of a moral crisis when she is asked to rule over a delicate and highly volatile case. Adapted by Richard Eyre from Ian McEwan’s novel of the same name, the film presents an interesting premise with themes relating to duty versus faith running through its narrative, but is slightly let down by a less than perfect screenplay.
Working tirelessly for years to become one of the brightest and most respected High Court judges in the country, Fiona Maye (Thompson) finds herself at a loss when her husband Jack (Stanley Tucci) suddenly informs her of his intention to have an extra-marital affair with a much younger woman, blaming Fiona for neglecting their sex life for years. Feeling betrayed and let down by this shocking revelation, Fiona throws herself in her job refusing to address the matter any further until she is forced to face up to her own fears.
Fiona’s life begins to unravel after she is asked to rule over the case of Adam Henry (Fionn Whitehead), a severely ill 17-year-old boy whose parents, who belong to Jehovah’s Witnesses faith, refuse to allow doctors to perform a blood transfusion which could save his life. Things are further complicated when Fiona starts to feel an unusual affinity with the boy long after the trial and case are over.
Whilst director Richard Eyre should be commended on a respectable and hugely accurate adaptation of one of McEwan’s most recent novels, the director’s refusal to break away from the original source material by having the author write the screenplay, is perhaps the reason behind the film’s inability to ring true. And while McEwan’s beautifully well executed and unmistakably stilted dialogue is what makes his writing so hugely sought after, this sadly seldom translates onto the screen, which in turn makes the characters seem far less realistic.
Emma Thompson is simply magnificent in yet another role which allows her to showcase her unique talent and unequaled vulnerability. Her ability to command every inch of the screen from start to finish is what ultimately saves the film from being a disappointingly mundane affair. For his part, newcomer Fionn Whitehead offers a beautifully unnerving turn as a vulnerable young man struggling to come to terms with his own mortality.
On the whole, The Children Act presents an interesting, if not completely believable, premise, but is nevertheless elevated by Thompson’s mesmeric presence and beautifully well-executed performance, making it one of her finest roles to date.