The Children Act
Runtime 105 minutes
This is a terrific tale of a female High Court Judge in England, Fiona Maye (Emma Thompson), who is faced with a life-changing decision on 17-year-old Adam (Fionn Whitehead), who has Leukemia but is refusing a blood transfusion because it violates his Jehovah’s Witness faith. At the same time, she is having to deal with a terrible problem in her marriage.
What is wonderful about the movie is it shows how much certitude she has in her courtroom decisions but how difficult it is for her to face up to the personal problems in her marriage.
Beautifully directed with fine pace by Richard Eyre from a script by Ian McEwan, who wrote the 2014 novel, Thompson grabs the role and owns it. On the one hand she is a confident, powerful woman who, in her position as a Judge, epitomizes what Irving Thalberg, the legendary head of Production and MGM, said when asked if he ever had doubts. He answered,
“Supposing there’s got to be a road through the mountain and… there seems to be a half-dozen possible roads… each one of which, so far as you can determine, is as good as the other. Now suppose you happen to be the top man, there’s a point where you don’t exercise the faculty of judgment of the ordinary way, but simply the faculty of arbitrary decision. You say, “Well, I think we will put the road there,” and you trace it with your finger and you know in your secret heart, and no one else knows, that you have no reason for putting the road there rather than in several other different courses, but you’re the only person who knows that you don’t know why you’re doing it and you’ve got to stick to that and you’ve got to pretend that you know that you did it for specific reasons, even though you’re utterly assailed by doubts at times as to the wisdom of your decision, because all these other possible decisions keep echoing in your ear. But when you’re planning a new enterprise on a grade scale, the people under you mustn’t ever know or guess that you’re in doubt, because they’ve all got to have something to look up to and they mustn’t ever dream that you’re in doubt about any decision.”
That’s the way Fiona is in her courtroom when faced with important decisions often affecting life and death. But when faced with her own dilemma, she lacks such certitude and runs away from facing up to the problem. It’s a brilliant dichotomy and McEwan treats it with sensitivity and perception.
Equally effective is Stanley Tucci as Fiona’s husband, Jack. Starved of affection, he candidly tells Fiona that he is going to embark on an affair because their marriage is not supplying him with everything he needs. While threatening infidelity is generally not too admirable, the way Jack approaches Fiona it seems an imminently logical solution to the problem. That’s not the way Fiona sees it, though.
Bolstered by outstanding performances by Thompson, Whitehead and Tucci, Fiona wrestles through these problems throughout, and the movie never lags, even for a second.
Tony Medley is an MPAA-accredited film critic. See more reviews at TonyMedley.com.