The Children Act review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
I can’t imagine being a judge on the most controversial of cases is an easy job. The very weight of human life rests on your shoulders in some instances. In the latest case, English High Court Judge Fiona Maye (Emma Thompson) is shaken. A 17-year-old boy, Adam (Fionn Whitehead), has leukemia but his parents refuse to let the hospital give him blood transfusions as it clashes with their religious beliefs. That’s a doozy of a courtroom battle and it’s all the more complicated with her troubled relationship with her husband (Stanley Tucci).
Fiona’s home life is a mess. Her husband is pompous enough to announce his marital affair more as though it were a business proposal. Watching her marriage crumble is draining enough but made all the more heartbreaking by their arguments and their small cousins coming to visit. Dealing with divorce turns out to be a troubling ordeal for her that exhausts her physically and emotionally.
The one person who seems to find the most comfort in her is Adam, won over by her pity and insistence on speaking with him in the hospital. They connect well. Perhaps too well. Realizing Fiona is the only woman who truly gets him where his parents let him down, he gravitates to close to her, trying desperately to bring this woman into his life. Fiona pushes him away but regretfully as she knows their relationship is one that is founded not on legal binding or religious belief but through genuine human nature.
This is the type of story that becomes very flimsy to hold up past melodrama. The courtroom drama of questioning religious decisions that could kill a kid is treated far more routinely than it should be. While the connection between Adam and Fiona is the highlight of the film, its diced far too much apart from the rest of the picture as it takes too much time for Fiona arguing with her ex-husband and feeling distant at parties where she’s expected to play the piano. This staging gives the film more of an appearance relating to a very special episode of a courtroom drama where dealing with Adam is just one of many cases and not as earthshaking in her day-to-day struggles of law and love.
But let’s be fair. Emma Thompson doesn’t slouch on the job and brings the right gravitas and humanity to this role that requires to be exceptionally emotional. Tucci is always a great choice as the snobby elite, given how full of himself he came off in his other affair drama, Submission. And though Fionn Whitehead is reduced to fairly small scenes, he makes the best of what little he has to work with, as will the entire cast.
There comes a point in The Children Act where I stopped caring about whether or not Adam would live or if Fiona would ever find true happiness. The performances are the real strength of carrying this rickety film from being more unique to watch than tiresome to track in its formula. And for that I can really only recommend the film as another testament to Thompson and Tucci’s commitment to any material, weak as it may be, and give it the best coat of dignity their acting can serve up.