The Children Act (2018)
Written by Ian McEwan
Directed by Richard Eyre
Justice Fiona Maye has devoted her life to the High Court and has ruled on many important cases involving the rights of parents versus the responsibilities of the medical community. A new case comes across her desk that gives her pause though. A 17-year-old boy with Leukemia has refused treatment due to his religious beliefs. He is of the Jehovah’s Witness faith and cannot take a transfusion of blood which is what the life-saving treatment will involve. Fiona hears from the parents and decides she needs to visit Adam, the ailing boy, and speak with him. She discovers a lively young man who is on the verge of death. Meanwhile, Fiona ignores her own personal turmoil as her marriage is crumbling. Her husband has let her know he is going to have an affair and she shuts herself off, buried beneath her work.
The Children Act is a muddled and confused film, but it’s the strong performance of Emma Thompson that carries the entire affair. Fionn Whitehead, the young actor who plays Adam, also holds his own and together they are the only points of light in the picture. It’s not a terrible movie, however. It presents some big ideas: faith versus science, the inevitable decline of some marriages, the boundaries of love. However, it fails ever to say anything profound about any of them. We’re given scenarios and situations, but I found myself grasping for any tangible themes out of these topics.
The screenwriter is the acclaimed author, Ian McEwan, adapting his novel. The director is Richard Eyre who has previously helmed the fantastic Notes on a Scandal. With all these beautiful elements something at some point in the production just failed to coalesce into the excellent movie this should have been.
I think the biggest flaw of the picture is the time spent on the marital conflict between Thompson and Tucci. Their struggling marriage is just not interesting. I have seen Tucci give better performances than this one note, redundant one. Every scene with the husband seems to hit on the same notes of him pleading with Fiona to communicate and her closing herself off physically in her office and emotionally in silence. The arc of this relationship never really goes anywhere. There’s a decent final scene between the two, but it never feels like it means much.
I was deeply frustrated by how unsatisfying this film ultimately felt. It’s a rare piece that seeks to tackle weighty adult issues. I applaud the filmmakers for making a movie that is quiet and serious. There are great single moments, particularly the first meeting between Fiona and Adam. It’s a rare moment that feels human and organic. The rest of the movie is so on the nose and exact that it lacks heart. I know McEwan is perfectly capable of delving into deeply human stories I don’t know what went wrong here.