The Children Act is a quiet and thoughtful drama starring two of the most versatile actors of our time: Emma Thompson (Sense and Sensibility, Howards End, Saving Mr. Banks, Harry Potter) and Stanley Tucci (Big Night, Spotlight, The Hunger Games). Thompson plays Fiona Maye, a British High Court judge tasked with making difficult, time-sensitive decisions involving the health and welfare of children. Her job is all-consuming, and her devotion to it has taken a heavy toll on her 20-year marriage – to the point where her loving but frustrated husband Jack (Tucci) tells her he is going to have an affair. The pronouncement sends Fiona into an emotional tailspin just as she’s getting swept up in the high-profile case of a teenage boy dying of leukemia.
The case centers around 17-year-old Adam Henry (Fionn Whitehead, Dunkirk), a gentle soul whose life could be saved by a simple blood transfusion. Adam and his parents, devout Jehovah’s Witnesses, reject the medical treatment on religious grounds; so the hospital takes them to court. It’s up to Fiona to decide what is in Adam’s best interests, even though he is just three-months shy of turning 18. Fiona takes the unusual step of visiting Adam in the hospital to hear directly from him about his wishes and beliefs. The two share an unexpected bond over music and a poignant exchange about choices, and what constitutes right and wrong. And Fiona makes her ruling.
That ruling comes surprisingly early in the film. But there is more to the story, and to the lingering impact of the case on Fiona’s job and marriage. Richard Eyre (Notes on a Scandal, Iris) directed the film, based on the novel by Ian McEwan who also wrote the screenplay. The Children Act manages to tug at the heartstrings in very subtle ways, even though it barely skims the surface of some rather deep themes. Thompson, Tucci and Whitehead help sell it with a triad of compelling performances. It’s a ‘quiet cry’ kind of film. And while it’s surely geared toward audiences who are mature enough to appreciate a smart, thought-provoking indie drama, I object to the ‘R’ rating. The Children Act should be PG-13, or not rated at all.
Arty Chick’s take: While I’m a big fan of both Thompson and Tucci, I was not really all that affected by this quiet drama. And the main reason was that I didn’t feel any chemistry between the two of them. Their relationship is not exactly the center of the film, but as the story kept circling back to them, I never really felt any spark there. I suspect the novel made more sense of the parallel though not connected storylines. And just a quibble but the trailer leads you to believe that the story with the boy and his fate are what drives the whole film. Shame on the studio!
And I agree entirely about the rating. ‘R’ for what?