Wor­thy Acta tale of in­ten­sity

The Southland Times - - Weekend -

The Chil­dren Act (M, 105 mins) Di­rected by Richard Eyre Re­viewed by James Croot ★★★★1⁄2

High Court judge Fiona Maye (Emma Thomp­son) is used to the time pres­sure and in­tense pub­lic in­ter­est some of her cases put her un­der. But her most re­cent one has af­fected her a lit­tle more.

Hav­ing to make a de­ci­sion about whether to al­low doc­tors, against the par­ents’ wishes, to sep­a­rate con­joined twins, even though one of them will die as a re­sult, has left Maye feel­ing emo­tion­ally and phys­i­cally drained.

Worse still, her home life is fall­ing apart. Con­cerned that it is 11 months since they’ve made love, hus­band Jack (Stan­ley Tucci) is dis­mayed that they’ve ended up ‘‘more like sib­lings’’ than hus­band and wife, and de­clares his in­ten­tion to have an af­fair.

De­spite reel­ing from that news, all Maye can do is throw her­self into her work. Af­ter all, she’s the duty judge all week­end and has two judg­ments due by Mon­day.

And then into her life comes the case of Adam Henry (Dunkirk’s Fionn White­head).

A 17-year-old leukaemia pa­tient, he badly needs a blood trans­fu­sion. Un­for­tu­nately, his par­ents and his re­li­gion (Je­ho­vah’s Wit­ness) for­bid such a pro­ce­dure, as they be­lieve ‘‘the soul is in the blood’’.

With time very much of the essence, Maye de­cides to take the rad­i­cal so­lu­tion of vis­it­ing the boy in hos­pi­tal be­cause she needs to know that ‘‘he has thought this through’’.

That de­ci­sion al­ters the course of both their lives.

Adapted by Ian McE­wan

(Atone­ment, On Ch­e­sil Beach) from his own 2014 novel, The Chil­dren Act pro­vides plenty of food for thought and com­pelling drama.

He and di­rec­tor Richard Eyre do a ter­rific job of keep­ing the au­di­ence guess­ing as Maye lets her­self be drawn into her lat­est case more deeply than in­tended.

Chil­dren also acts as a ter­rific por­trait of two mar­riages in cri­sis – Maye’s own and that of Adam’s par­ents.

It helps that Eyre and McE­wan can also draw on a ter­rific cast that in­cludes newly minted Dame Emma (The Re­mains of the Day, Howard’s End) in one of her finest per­for­mances, a heart-wrench­ing White­head (whose mother had ap­par­ently just died from the same cancer), the al­ways re­li­able Tucci

(Julie and Ju­lia, Spot­light), and a fab­u­lous sup­port­ing cast.

At times, it does feel more like a stage play than a fea­ture film, but that’s only be­cause of the in­ten­sity of the emo­tions on dis­play. Like­wise, the more mea­sured pac­ing won’t be for ev­ery­one.

How­ever, this is a ri­poste for any­one who thinks that all the great con­tem­po­rary Bri­tish drama can only be found on tele­vi­sion.

The Chil­dren Act pro­vides plenty of food for thought and com­pelling drama.

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