Whose Choice Is It, Anyway? (Film Review: “The Children Act”)


A respectable British judge is confronted with the truth about her marriage at the same time that a brilliant and passionate boy forces her to challenge the tenets of his faith in this intelligent adaptation of an Ian McEwan novel.

SnapShot Plot

Emma Thompson proves yet again that she can command a film much in the same way her character commands a courtroom in the legal/family drama, The Children ActThompson plays a workaholic appeal court judge named Fiona Maye, a no nonsense, take no prisoners character who is addressed as ‘My Lady’ even outside of her courtroom. Long married to Jack Maye (in a restrained performance by the always riveting Stanley Tucci) we meet the couple at a crisis point in their marriage. And still, Fiona is so work-driven that in the midst of a revelation from Jack that could signal the most brutal of marital outcomes, she’s quick to answer her phone, morphing immediately into judge mode. Of course the irony of this childless marriage and the fact that Fiona resides over a family court is not lost upon the audience. Here is a classic case of a woman too entrenched in her career ambitions to have carved out the time or interest to have children, yet she must make critical decisions about them every single day.

The legal case about to present in Fiona’s courtroom involves a Jehovah’s Witness couple – the Henrys –  whose pious 17 year old son has refused a blood transfusion, signaling dire consequences for his survival. In a rare move, Fiona leaves the courtroom to see young Adam Henry herself, in order to judge whether his resolve is completely his own or if he’s been brainwashed by his parents. Apparently, according to the tenets of their faith, Jehovah’s Witnesses are convinced that God’s presence in their lives is unequivocally manifested in the blood itself, and that to accept any other person’s blood into their veins is a pollution of their faith serious enough to justify an exile from the church.

Fionn Whitehead (Dunkirk) portrays Adam with a passion and luminosity rarely seen on film. When the boy opens his eyes to see Fiona at his bedside, something inside him latches onto her immediately, further cemented when she encourages him to play something on his guitar, to which she sings in accompaniment. From that moment on, Adam is convinced that Fiona holds the key to his future. For her part, Fiona is confused as to what has motivated Adam in such a strong way, although we can see that she too is moved by this young man in a manner that both stirs her and frightens her, concerned that his affection will be seen as an embarrassing breach of propriety. All at once, she has become the central focus of Adam’s thoughts, and to what end she’s completely confused.



Parting Shot

Directed by Richard Eyre (Iris; Notes on a Scandal; King Lear) with a script written by the author himself – Ian McEwan – The Children Act is a thinking person’s film. It asks tough questions about personal choice and faith, and also about the parameters of human kindness and affection. Most of all, though, it’s a story about the constantly shifting nature of Perspective. From Fiona’s perspective, Adam’s behavior is obviously inappropriate, that is, until her perspective about him changes. We’re unsure of Adam’s perspective toward Fiona, expecting at one moment a potboiler teenage crush, until we see the depth of his passion toward her, and realize that his feelings about her go way beyond the physical. Fiona’s tragedy speaks to a person who’s so accustomed to judging others that she can’t help but hold herself to the same rigid standards with which she estimates the merits of those who come before her in court. And when she realizes that her rigidity has quashed the potential beauty that could have existed between her world and that of Adam, it’s too late for them both. In this story, Justice is indeed blind.

The Children Act is presently streaming on Amazon Prime.

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YouTube Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M3LJHpho6OA


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