Fiona Maye (Emma Thompson) is a judge who is given the difficult task of presiding over a legal dispute between a hospital and the family of a 17-year-old boy with leukemia who are refusing a blood transfusion. As Jehovah’s Witnesses they object to this treatment, but the hospital want the right to treat the boy as he is still a minor. Maye’s decision is made more complicated by the turmoil in her life following difficulties in her marriage.
After the summer season it is always refreshing to encounter a serious film again and really engage with a complicated and nuanced subject. The Children Act is about fiercely intelligent people discussing the law and moral codes and it is filled with beautifully acted characters. The only negative for it is that it sometimes feels as though the scenarios it places its characters in are being artificially contrived to heighten the intellectual conversation. This may or may not be a bad thing for you depending on your outlook though, given that this film is specifically trying to flesh out the complexity of a scenario on both moral, legal and religious grounds.
Emma Thompson delivers one of her best performances in recent years, offering a character who is so consumed by her job that she is detached from her marriage. The case seems to open up some of her emotions giving her something new to deal with. The cast as a whole is very good. Stanley Tucci as the ignored husband who desperately wants to engage with his wife and Fionn Whitehead as the boy are both very good, but the other cast member I think deserves plaudits is Ben Chaplin as the boy’s father. Although only in a handful of scenes, his time giving evidence in court is particularly powerful.
Just like On Chesil Beach earlier this year, this film is based on a book by Ian McEwan and the screenplay is written by him also. As with that film it shows the sort of qualities that you would expect to see in a play and occasionally feels like an exercise in creating a scenario for intellectual discussion. You can not argue that the scenario is not interesting though.
One final thing of note is how refreshing it was to find that the trailers for this film only share information from the first two-thirds of the film. When the film entered its final third I had the peculiar exhilaration of having no idea what would happen next. Something that the modern-day trailer usually rules out to some degree. It was positively dizzying.
Phenomenal acting and an intriguing moral question. Worth your time.