The indomitable Emma Thompson stars in THE CHILDREN ACT as Fiona Maye, a British High Court judge in the Family Division. Often tasked with making life-and-death decisions regarding children, her toughest case to date involves 17-year-old Adam (Fionn Whitehead), a Jehovah's Witness with leukemia. His parents --- and Adam --- are refusing a blood transfusion which could save him.
Fiona is an immensely dedicated officer of the court, who has set aside her own desire for a child, and her marriage has suffered for it. Her long-neglected husband, Jack (Stanley Tucci), a college professor, has decided he wants to have an affair, but feels he must tell Fiona first. He's not so much asking her permission as he is declaring his frustration with the state of their marriage.
Shaken by Jack's revelation, Fiona must still perform her duties, which now include deciding Adam's fate. In a rare move, she leaves her courtroom to visit Adam in the hospital. While trying to gauge his participation in this decision versus his parents, Fiona touches upon something in this young man which will change both their lives.
Adapted by Ian McEwan, from his own novel, and directed by Richard Eyre, THE CHILDREN ACT is the perfect example of superb writing, direction and acting. McEwan's dialogue is character-driven and honest --- maddeningly so. We so want Fiona to scream and yell --- or throw something --- at Jack, but there is none of that. Keeping her British "stiff upper lip", she carries on as if nothing is wrong, until tiny cracks begin to appear.
Thompson is at her best here. It's one of the best performances of her impressive career. Her icy resolve does melt on more than one occasion. And not only is she a respected judge of the high court, she's also an accomplished pianist. And it is during the scene in which she is accompanying a fellow barrister that solidifies the genius of this portrayal. Heartbreaking doesn't begin to describe it ---
Whitehead, one of the stars of Christopher Nolan's DUNKIRK, is just as fearless and engaging as Ms. Thompson. His youthful exuberance is catching and takes a wary Fiona by surprise. This talented young man is breathtaking to watch --- his vulnerability is palpable and agonizing.
The casting of Tucci as Fiona's desperate husband is a brilliant choice. He is so incredibly dependable in a role such as this, providing the constant support needed by his leading counterpart.
THE CHILDREN ACT is purely a thespian's dream, allowing each member of the ensemble his or her opportunity to make a statement. And Eyre, the past Director of the National Theatre in London, is a master at giving his actors just the right amount of guidance without stifling their creativity. It's a joy to behold such a film of significant substance.
Opinion: See It Now!
2018 may be remembered as the year of great female performances. Earlier I cited Glenn Close for her work in THE WIFE. Shortly thereafter we screened Keira Knightley in the yet-to-be-reviewed COLETTE, and she merits consideration. Now, with the release of a film called THE CHILDREN ACT, we have the always- marvelous Emma Thompson in serious contention.
British High Court judge Fiona Maye (Thompson) is routinely faced with harrowing decisions about children who are too young to make their own choices. Early on in THE CHILDREN ACT, Judge Maye must decide the fate of conjoined twins whose parents insist the children not be separated. To do so will mean the instantaneous death of one twin, but give a decent chance at a normal life to the surviving child.
While she's considering her ruling in this case, we get a glimpse of her marriage to American Jack Maye (Stanley Tucci), and it's not good. They haven't engaged in sexual activity for eons, and he is blatantly admitting to his wife that he wants to have an affair.
When the case of the conjoined twins is ultimately settled, complete with the published public reaction, it's on to the next dilemma for Ms. Maye. And this sets the stage for the remainder of the film. Written by Ian McEwan from his own novel, THE CHILDREN ACT finds Judge Maye having to intervene on behalf of a handsome young boy, Adam Henry (Fionn Whitehead, DUNKIRK) who refuses a blood transfusion that could save his life.
But the 17-year-old's deep-seated religious beliefs forbid another person's blood to enter his body. Complicating matters, his equally zealous parents, Kevin (Ben Chaplin) and Naomi (Eileen Walsh), are in full agreement. Judge Maye decides to talk to Adam directly, and their brief meeting will have extended consequences nobody could have predicted.
THE CHILDREN ACT is the kind of small film Jeanne and I greatly appreciate. The audience is never sure where the story is heading. Director Richard Eyre has worked with leading female stars before, including Judi Dench, Cate Blanchett and Kate Winslet. He knows how to extract great performances from his cast, and that trait is quite evident here with Ms. Thompson. McEwan's script and Thompson's nuanced turn provide insight into human events not normally captured on TV or film in the name of entertainment.
I encourage serious moviegoers to see this film. Furthermore, I promise you a terrifically compelling story with an emotional impact not easily forgotten. As for Whitehead, he is yet another young actor of recent times who has a glowing future. But most importantly, see THE CHILDREN ACT for an absolutely sterling portrayal by one of cinema's most storied actresses.
Opinion: See It Now!