The Children Act
Jacob Richardson | 25/11/2018
The Children Act is entirely a vehicle for Emma Thompson; but when she is so indelibly on form, who cares?
Fiona Maye (Emma Thompson) is a judge in the High Court of Justice of England and Wales. As her marriage with her husband Jack (Stanley Tucci) is failing, with him saying that he wants to have an affair with a colleague, Fiona comes across a very intriguing case. She is presented with a 17-year-old boy, Adam Henry (Fionn Whitehead), who is suffering from leukemia. His doctors need to perform a blood transfusion, but both Adam and his parents are Jehovah’s Witnesses, and believe that a blood transfusion is against biblical principles. As Fiona deliberates on the case, she also develops a strange relationship with the young lad.
Directed by Richard Eyre, The Children Act is most certainly a drama; there is little of comedic or action value here. But the story never lags too much, and by breaking from the expected formula of the case itself being the framing device, Eyre manages to craft a much more interesting picture of how Fiona’s decision affects not only others, but herself, long after she has made a decision.
Emma Thompson delivers a truly powerhouse performance as Fiona. She is fierce, intelligent and unabashedly enthralled with her work. Fiona’s relationship with her husband is particularly interesting, and Thompson manages to convey a sense of regret for not being able to fulfil his needs, without ever giving in to his unreasonable demands, or degrading her own values or self. In a lesser performers hand, or indeed a lesser directors, one could see Fiona as much more subservient to Jack, but this combination of actress and director manage to retain her strength and moral fortitude without ever limiting the necessary arc between Jack and Fiona.
Fiona’s relationship with Adam is also very intriguing, although often confusing and ambiguous. Fionn Whitehead attacks the role with bubbling enthusiasm, and creates a stark contrast with Thompson composed portrayal of Fiona. Tucci is also good, showcasing enough of his trademark charm to indicate why Fiona would take Jack back, but also bringing enough of an edge to understand why they would be in that place in the first place.
In the end, however, The Children Act is all down to Emma Thompson’s performance and the engrossing story. At no point are we more aware of this than when she breaks down after a piano recital. Sitting in stunned silence in the cinema, you’ll be reminded why Emma Thompson is one of the greatest treasures we have.
An engrossing moral dilemma and a stand out performance from Emma Thompson lift what could have been a staid British drama to new lofty heights.