The Children Act is not the courtroom procedural you might expect. Ian McEwan’s screenplay – and his novel before it – has plenty up its sleeve beyond the premise’s proffering of a delicious shades-of-grey legal and moral dilemma. Dispensing with this drama surprisingly quickly, The Children Act eschews the genre trappings it could have fallen into in favour of something far less predictable.
Director Richard Eyre proved his aptitude for rich character study with 2006’s Notes on a Scandal, and his union with McEwan’s material is a match made in adaptation heaven. With judges often rote archetypes in film and television it’s a treat to see one who’s a proper character with real feelings and motivations. Better still, Fiona Maye’s are tantalisingly difficult to unpick. Emma Thompson, of course, more than fills these shoes. Her delivery alone is joyous to behold, and it efficiently communicates Fiona’s professional competence. Her other qualities, however, are far more slippery, and therein lies much of the pleasure of The Children Act. The unlikelihood that this story would ever be made with gender-flipped roles is the fly in the ointment.
It’s an odd head-scratcher of a movie ripe for post-viewing discussion, though too understated for those who like their conclusions clear and final. You can almost hear the pruning snip of McEwan’s adaptation, and the film’s dewy half-hearted flashbacks leave back story rather thin.
The Children Act’s thought-provoking nature aside, there’s plenty to entertain on the surface. Eyre directs some lovely light observational comedy behind the scenes at the Royal Court of Justice, and Thompson and the prolific Jason Watkins prove a very tickling awkward duo.
The second McEwan adaptation to hit the silver screen this year – following up On Chesil Beach – The Children Act is an idiosyncratic curio that lives and breathes beyond its running time.
CAST: Fionn Whitehead, Emma Thompson, Stanley Tucci, Rupert Vansittart
DIRECTOR: Richard Eyre
WRITER: Ian McEwan
SYNOPSIS: As her marriage crumbles, a judge must decide a case involving a teenage boy who is refusing a blood transfusion on religious principle.