The Children Act - Well Done, Provocative, Challenging

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The Children Act, from A24, presents the story of life within a power couple’s marriage, of an overloaded and dedicated High Court Children's Judge her equally high achieving husband, the demands of profession, of martial expectations, of life.

Directed by Sir Richard Eyre, The Children Act stars Emma Thompson, Stanley Tucci, Fionn Whitehead, Ben Chaplin, Eileen Walsh, Avital Abergel, Raphael Desprez, Dominic Carter, and Renna Lalbihari and was written by Ian McEwan.

The film begins in court with High Court Judge Fiona Maye, played by Emma Thompson, in the midst of determining the rights of conjoined twins. As she faces the court, family and media, she, before her ruling, is already the enemy.


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Her equally high achieving husband Jack, played by Stanley Tucci, a professor of some antiquated subject only interesting to doctoral students or other intellectuals has adapted to the role of caregiver to his wife, Fiona, whom he confesses a genuine love, as  she has become inundated with a calendar of cases for the London's most vulnerable citizens and by virtue of the Queen, she is the appointed to determine, overriding parents, religion and society, what is the best interest for the child.

With her decision on the separation of conjoined twins expected the following day, she is deep in thought, when Jack talks about playing doubles on Saturday, which she mumbles a response really a recognition of the voice not the words, and as the hours pass, he is alone in bed again.

Debating as she writes the brief, she understands life for each is not necessarily dependent on the other as one can survive apart. She renders this ruling to which she is vilified as a baby murderer.

Exiting out the back, in order to avoid the growing protesters, glare of media inquiry and harsh rebukes from the family, she makes her way home. This day, Jack, decides today is the day to explain his feelings.

Finally with both at home Fiona is buried in a brief when Jack explains to her he is just going to say it as he explains he is going to have an affair. It is not because he doesn't love her, because he does. They don't have sex anymore, and as he explains it has been 11 months, he marked it in his journal under event.

The sexless married life is not what he signed on for and now, with Ms. Doctoral Student, showing up bright eyed with a smile, intellectual conversation and sex. Well, it isn't the temptation as much as it is just sex. She's willing and the love of his love isn't.

Fiona, while hearing is having difficulty understanding. No excuses over her caseload, she just feels that this season is an evolution.

In the middle of the discussion, the phone rings an it is her clerk. A case which needs to be expedited as doctors for a 17 year old cancer patient child, needs an injunction to begin life saving blood transfusions. Even with only a few months before he can make his own decisions now he still falls under the Children Act, and his parents, Jehovah's Witness are refusing life-saving measures.

Of course with her personal life falling apart, her usual even demeanor is more demanding as we see to the benefit of most cases who appear on the next day.

Jack, of course seemed to think this sex affair, will run its course. Fiona, has different ideas. She immediately changes the locks and makes the moves to formalize his requests.

At this point the film turns toward the case, a teen, Adam, played by Fionn Whitehead, refuses the treatments in commitment to his faith which collides with the derailment of Fiona's marriage.

With only months before the child is able to make his own informed decisions, she is at this point the designate left to determine what is best.

This is where The Children Act shifts. We have seen the depth and stress of her caseload. The Children Act presents a well made film, with Emma Thompson handling the dramatic seamlessly and with flair as she moves between situations.

The audience is also left debating the decision, as we have seen, courts and those who swear an allegiance to uphold the law, truth and best interest, become corrupt. Is her decision fair or based on her present emotional struggles? Is she trying to stop a runaway train or finally squash religious rights?


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Although much is discussed about the nature of the circumstances, an informed decision for a child who desires to please his parents, is home-schooled, and has only socialized with those of like-mindedness, presents a real dilemma. In this case, the child is 17 and remains therefore the child's welfare shall be the courts paramount consideration.

Obviously the film is the meaty, heavy drama awards seasons voters look to and Ms. Thompson's performance throughout is smooth, continuous, without any uncomfortable  transitions.

There are moments, however, when she kicks it up a notch and something different is seen. Moments when she fades and an authentic portrayal of a High Court Judge, of one with an encyclopedic knowledge and understanding of the law appears. The onset of receiving the case from her clerk is one of those scenes. It is dramatic, on point and extremelywell done.

Even while it is an ensemble cast the film becomes a three-hander. The main players, Ms. Thompson, Stanley Tucci and Fionn Whitehead, each breathing life into these words and elevating the film.

The Children Act is challenging, provocative, and significant.  As the status quo is challenged on all sides, personally and professionally, and as always the balance of another life, this time, metaphorically and literally rest in her decisions.

The Children Act opens Friday, September 14, 2018. See it.

 

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