Emma Thompson is magni icent as a high court judge but even she can’t save the day as Ian McEwan’s adap­ta­tion of his own novel turns out to be silly and pre­dictable

The Mail on Sunday - Event - - FRONT PAGE -

The Chil­dren Act isn’t just the sec­ond film based on an Ian McEwan novel to be re­leased inside four months, it’s the sec­ond con­sec­u­tive film for which McEwan has adapted the screen­play him­self – some­thing he has hith­erto done only oc­ca­sion­ally dur­ing his pro­lific 40-year writ­ing ca­reer. But while the first, On Ch­e­sil Beach, I thought was quite won­der­ful, the sec­ond feels like dis­tinctly hard work, de­spite a won­der­ful cen­tral per­for­mance from its star, Emma Thompson.

It’s di­rected by Richard Eyre, who may have Notes On A Scan­dal and Iris among his film-making cred­its, but he is best known as a the­atre di­rec­tor. And there’s a the­atri­cal­ity, a stagi­ness to what unfolds here as ex­pe­ri­enced High Court judge Fiona Maye (Thompson) dis­cov­ers that her long, child­less mar­riage has fallen apart with­out her notic­ing.

‘I think I want to have an af­fair,’ an­nounces her hith­erto sup­port­ive hus­band (Stan­ley Tucci) in the liv­ing room of their com­fort­able Gray’s Inn flat, ask­ing his wife if she can even re­mem­ber the last time they made love. He leaves soon af­ter­wards, but not be­fore an­swer­ing his own ques­tion. ‘It was 11 months 16 ago…’ And so her per­sonal and pro­fes­sional worlds are plunged into cri­sis, al­beit the sort of up­tight, put-on-a-brave-face cri­sis that the pro­fes­sional classes spe­cialise in.

With the dis­tinctly dry ‘ac­tion’ switch­ing be­tween set-like court­rooms, her flat and the of­fice where she is waited on by her de­voted clerk (Ja­son Watkins), there’s an in­ti­macy to pro­ceed­ings that sug­gests if the­atre weren’t its pre­ferred home, then tele­vi­sion just might be. But what makes it not just a fea­ture film but a fea­ture film worth catch­ing (if you’re in a cere­bral frame of mind) is the qual­ity of Thompson’s per­for­mance.

Of­ten an ac­tress in­clined to big per­for­mances, here she is the epit­ome of but­toned­down, emo­tional re­straint, con­vey­ing more in a re­proach­ful glance of those un­happy eyes than McEwan could in a page of di­a­logue.

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