‘The Children Act’ review: Emma Thompson gives one of the best performances of her career in this riveting courtroom drama

Regardless of its sometimes slow pace and somber tone, ‘The Children Act’ is certainly worth a watch!


                            ‘The Children Act’ review: Emma Thompson gives one of the best performances of her career in this riveting courtroom drama

In a beautiful and heart-wrenching performance by Emma Thompson, ‘The Children Act’ follows High Court judge Fiona Maye (played by Thompson), who in the midst of a marital crisis must rule on a legal case concerning the survival of a teenage boy. Also starring Stanley Tucci and Fionn Whitehead ('Dunkirk'), ‘The Children Act’ was adapted from the acclaimed novel by Ian McEwan (Atonement) and directed by Sir Richard Eyre ('Notes on a Scandal', 'Iris'). 

A woman who has devoted her life to her job, Fiona is still astounded when her husband tells her he’s unhappy and would like to have an affair. Pushing the problem aside, she’s then thrown into one of the most challenging and devastating cases of her career that completely turns her life upside-down. Adam Henry, a 17-year-old Jehovah’s Witness, is dying of Leukemia and both him and his parents are refusing the treatment he needs to save his life due to their religious beliefs. 

This is clearly an ethical dilemma, as Adam, played by Whitehead, is just three months short of turning 18, at which point the case would have been thrown out as he would be an adult. However, both the hospital and the court believe that Adam should be treated as a child, as he has clearly been influenced by his parents and the church. In a string of several long and somewhat slow court scenes, the film picks up when Fiona decides to meet Adam in person at the hospital, to not only make sure he’s aware of his options but to also see where he’s coming from.

Emma Thompson and Fionn Whitehead attend 'The Children Act' UK Premiere at The Curzon Mayfair on August 16, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by Tim P. Whitby/Getty Images)
Emma Thompson and Fionn Whitehead attend 'The Children Act' UK Premiere at The Curzon Mayfair on August 16, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by Tim P. Whitby/Getty Images)

Fiona has always been a by the books kind of woman, rarely showing emotion and committed to being objective in her job. However, when she meets Adam that all changes, as there is an instant connection that takes both of them by surprise. In one of the best performances of Thompson’s career, we slowly see her unravel and become emotionally invested in not just the case, but in Adam as well. 

Fiona decides to side with the hospital and against Adam and his family, which forces Adam to get the treatment to save his life.  After doing so, Adam goes from a boy on the verge of death to a seemingly healthy young man, who is now looking for meaning in his life.  After his life-saving blood transfusion, Adam thinks of Fiona as his savior, becoming obsessed with the well-to-do High Court Judge. While most women would be alarmed by being stalked by a teenage boy, Fiona is as kind as she can be, clearly having a soft spot in her heart for the confused and tortured teen. In a superb performance by Whitehead, Adam is both endearing and off-putting, giving the audience a similar sense of confusion and pity for the troubled boy. 

Filled with stellar performances, 'The Children Act' is more of a character piece than anything else. McEwan did a relatively good job of adapting his book into a film, but you have to like his style in order to be riveted by the story itself.  As far as the direction, Eyre’s style is subdued and understated, which was perfect for this kind of narrative. ‘The Children Act’ actually premiered last year at the Toronto Film Festival and is finally getting a theatrical release on September 14th (it is also currently available exclusively on DIRECTV). Regardless of its sometimes slow pace and somber tone, ‘The Children Act’ is certainly worth a watch!