Tuesday 7 June 2022

Movie Review: The Children Act (2017)

A legal drama, The Children Act probes fragile human psyches navigating surprising vulnerabilities.

In London, the Honourable Mrs. Justice Fiona Maye (Emma Thompson) is a distinguished judge entrusted with the most controversial cases. But at home, her childless marriage has gone so stale that husband Jack (Stanley Tucci), a college professor, announces he is off to have an affair.

Fiona's latest case involves 17-year-old leukemia patient Adam (Fionn Whitehead). He is refusing a life-saving blood transfusion because his Jehovah's Witness beliefs consider human blood sacred. Fiona visits Adam in hospital before making her judgment, establishing a connection with the young man. But he then develops an obsession, leading to unexpected consequences.

Written by Ian McEwan (based on his novel) and directed by Richard Eyre, The Children Act packs quiet drama into a twisty, two-part story. Drawing strength from grey England locations and a supreme Emma Thompson central performance, the film first creates then challenges human bonds, deftly avoiding cliches by steering in unpredictable directions.

The first half is an attractive legal conundrum, but Fiona has the law to lean on. Adam is under 18, and therefore public health authorities have the final say about his treatment. The courtroom arguments and counter-arguments are predictable but nevertheless sharp, and given the public scrutiny, Fiona's decision to visit Adam at his hospital bed is compassionate and justified.

Just when it appears the narrative is settling down to provide educated commentary on religious rights versus established science, McEwan and Eyre swing into a different mode entirely. Now less sick but more confused, Adam forms a challenging one-sided attachment to the person who may have saved his life. He starts appearing at inopportune times around Fiona as she moves on to other cases and ponders a reconciliation with husband Jack. 

The dramatic tension evolves into a suddenly broader topic, health now encompassing mental well-being. Having played the role of physical saviour, Fiona has to confront her downstream responsibilities and the implications of severing a young man from the support network he grew up with. Beset by doubt and insecurity, their two lives are intertwined into a gripping, unpredictable knot.

The Children Act dares to step down from the judge's vantage point and ventures into the messy world, where difficult judgments reverberate among imperfect people.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

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