The Children Act
Director: Richard Eyre.
Based upon the highly regarded English author, Ian McEwan’s titular novel, which was published back in 2014 and is one of many his books that has been visualised for the big screen; most notably, Atonement, Enduring Love and recently, On Chesil Beach. And whilst they are some slightly adjustments from the book, McEwan also wrote the screenplay for this film.
Titled The the Children Act, which is a 1989 act of parliament that is supposed to ensure and uphold children’s welfare, which might, and especially in this case, protect children from their parent’s own decisions, no matter the good intentions or difficult moral dilemmas. But this film isn’t really about that. It’s not strictly a court room drama as such and instead focuses on Fiona Mayes, a highly respected High Court Justice who specialises in family law, in particular, the Children Act.
We follow Justice Mayes, played superbly by Emma Thompson as she commands her court and delivers her rulings unflinchingly, but more importantly, we witness the emotional impact her judgment have on her own life; how her whole career has impacted on her life and quite possibly leading to the inevitable breakdown of her marriage.
During a major fracture in her personal life, Mayes is summoned to an emergency case of a 17year old boy; Adam, a bright, colourful and talented young man who is refusing life-saving treatment on the grounds of his religious beliefs. And it’s this case that’s going to bring Mayes’ life into reflection and perspective.
Thompson plays a stern, astute and dedicated character that, behind closed doors, shimmers a weakness and a emotional fragility. I always find her to be amazing in whatever role she subscribes to, and as a result, I tend to enjoy the film a lot more because of her; and this is no exception. Essentially, this is a drama that capitalises on her performance almost entirely, to bring this story to life; and Thompson does exactly that. It’s performances like this that makes her one of the greatest actresses of our time, and is what makes this film outstanding.
Though, not to take anything away from the supporting cast, with Watkins playing Mayes’ forever loyal and subservient personal assistant and Tucci firmly back doing a serious role at last, as her overly honest yet neglected husband. But the next biggest mention goes to Dunkirk’s Fionn Whitehead, who glady gets a more vocal role and does incredibly well to match Thompson’s performance as the ailing youngster that’s prepare to sacrifice himself because of religious doctrine.
Richard Eyre directs a neatly structured story that is captivating and intriguing. This accompanied with a delicate piano score from Stephen Warbeck and some great use of on set locations, it makes this an authentic and engaging drama piece. It’s almost set entirely within the law quarter of the City of London, from the barrister’s chambers of Gray’s Inn, following walks through New Square and of course the iconic Royal Courts of Justice and surrounding areas.
It’s a powerful, emotional drama and doesn’t necessarily challenge the audience as one might expect but it’s an insightful look at a High Court Judge’s life, reminding us of how people, no matter the class, education or stature, are simply human beings too. My final verdict is that this is a strong drama case and worth watching purely for Thompson, though sadly it doesn’t raise anything tremendously above the bar.
Running Time: 8
The Cast: 9
Job Description: 8
The Extra Bonus Point: 0