Emma Thompson makes just about anything better.
Synopsis: As her marriage to Jack founders, eminent High Court judge Fiona Maye has a life-changing decision to make at work: should she force a teenage boy, Adam, to have the blood transfusion that will save his life? Her unorthodox visit to his hospital bedside has a profound impact on them both, stirring strong new emotions in the boy and long-buried feelings in her. (eOne Films)
Starring: Emma Thompson, Stanley Tucci, and Fionn Whitehead
Writer: Ian McEwan
Director: Richard Eyre
Rating: PG (Canada)/R (United States)
Running Time: 105mins
While watching The Children Act, it is clear to see what it’s trying to do but it could never seem to get there. Based on Ian McEwan’s book of the same name (he also wrote the script), the film was about a High Court judge named Fiona Maye (Thompson). Facing marital problems with her husband Jack (Tucci), Maye was forced to preside over a high-profile case involving a teenage boy named Adam (Whitehead) who was refusing a life-saving blood transfusion on religious grounds just months before his eighteenth birthday. Maye’s unorthodox approach with Adam led to a type of relationship that neither of them had anticipated.
Maye was easily the most interesting character here, having to preside over countless cases involving children, often acting as their advocate. These cases weren’t always easy as she had to make some tough decisions, weighing was it right and what is lawful. She was consumed by her work which causes a strain on her marriage to Jack who simply wanted more from their marriage though he still claimed that he loved her. He wanted to look elsewhere while still being with her. This ultimately caused some stress for Maye although she never seemed particularly interested in Jack despite her constant reminiscing of the good times they had together. This subplot pretty much went nowhere and had little to no effect on the plot.
For reasons that the film failed to explore with any detail, Maye seemed to be interested in Adam more than the other children whose cases she had presided over. She was so interested that she visited the talented and articulate teen at the hospital. Ever since that visit, Adam felt indebted to her and believed that they shared some sort of a connection. Obviously she ruled in favor to save him and since being saved, Adam’s need to show his gratitude and to further explore their alleged connection turned into an obsession. Maye appeared to have feelings for Adam as well which came out of nowhere. She constantly tried to get rid of him as any type of relationship with Adam would be unprofessional, however, he just kept coming back until his tragic demise. What was clearly meant to be an emotional moment had nowhere near its intended impact due to the lack of character development on the part of Maye and Adam.
The plot may have been a mess but the best part of the film was the performances of Thompson and Whitehead as Maye and Adam respectively and were both compelling to watch. Thompson delivers a powerful emotionally nuanced performance that helped to overcome the writing and bring her underdeveloped character to life. Whitehead delivered a strong performance in his own right while often stealing scenes from Thompson in the little screen time he had. Both he and Thompson had excellent chemistry so it was a shame that they didn’t get more scenes together. Tucci was good as well as Jack, however, his character was arguably not necessary to the story despite his chemistry with Thompson.
Overall, this was a decent drama that was mess both plot wise and tone wise and lacked focus, full of underdeveloped characters and subplots that never seemed to fit together cohesively. What ultimately keeps it from totally falling apart are a pair of great performances from Emma Thompson and Fionn Whitehead.