Oscar winner Emma Thompson gives a compelling performance as a judge making life-or-death decisions in the film adaptation of Ian McEwan’s acclaimed novel, The Children Act.

In the opening scenes Judge Fiona Maye must decide whether to allow doctors to operate on two conjoined twins.

If the surgery goes ahead, one twin will die. Without it, neither will survive. The parents vehemently oppose the operation.

 

 

Outside the imposing Royal Courts of Justice, screaming demonstrators are waving placards.

The British Children Act of 1989 authorises the court to decide. The child’s welfare must be the paramount consideration.

Hard on that harrowing case comes a second, involving a 17-year-old boy dying of leukemia.

His parents, devoted Jehovah’s Witnesses, have refused to allow the blood transfusion which could save his life. The boy agrees with them and says he is ready to die for his faith.

Maye decides to visit the dying boy, Adam Henry (a standout portrayal by talented newcomer Fionn Whitehead), and the rapport between them is a highlight of the film.

 

 

He turns out to be intense, sensitive, intelligent – and he touches the heart of the cool, childless judge, who has let the law take over her life.

Engrossed with her demanding career she has no time for her devoted husband Jack (Stanley Tucci), who astonishes her when he announces he wants to have an affair.

I love you, we were meant to be together, but we don’t even kiss any more,” he says.

She responds by kicking him out and changing the locks. When he returns two days later, she refuses to speak to him.

Thompson is her brilliant best as the decisive, no-nonsense judge, the respected “My Lady” in court, but emotionally shut down in her personal life.

 

 

She has some powerful lines – McEwan adapted his novel for the screen – but her great strength is her ability to show her feelings wordlessly, through her facial expressions.

She has a worthy co-star in Whitehead, who touches the heart as the vulnerable Adam, as open emotionally as the judge is constricted.

 

 

The film was directed by Richard Eyre, with a beautiful score by Stephen Warbeck, including numerous passages by Bach.

The Children Act is now showing at Luna Leederville, Luna on SX and the Windsor Cinema.

 

Watch the trailer…

 

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