The Children Act, 2018.
Directed by Richard Eyre.
Starring Emma Thompson, Stanley Tucci, Fionn Whitehead, Ben Chaplin, Eileen Walsh, Anthony Calf, Jason Watkins, Dominic Carter, Dwayne Thomas, Radhika Aggarwal, and Rosie Cavaliero.
A high court judge presides over the most ethically complex cases. Her recent case involves a young 17-year-old who refuses a life-saving blood transfusion. Her judgement is put to the test as she is called upon whether the boy lives or dies.
Anyone who has been on Facebook for long enough will see a post from that one friend who decries modern medicine, proclaims they will never vaccinate their kid as “they are the awakened ones”, and stands by homoeopathy/alt-medicine instead of scientifically sound vaccines that have saved millions of lives. This film is that dilemma but with religious fanaticism as opposed to fake news.
At the heart of the film is this battle between belief and fact, and more so when a young life hangs in the balance. Fiona (brilliantly portrayed by Emma Thompson) is the high court judge who adheres to the British Law of the Children Act. Her latest case involves the fanatical Jehovah Witnesses Kevin and Naomi Henry (Ben Chaplin and Eileen Walsh, respectively) who have taught their son Adam (Fionn Whitehead) that a Jehovah Witness never donates nor receives blood as per their belief. Fiona must review the case as to whether Adam knows what he’s doing, or whether he’s been indoctrinated to refuse a blood transfusion on the said religious ground.
The film presents this issue for the audience to dwell upon, whether or not Fiona will allow religious freedom to overrule the safety of a child, but the film misunderstands that logic would dictate the mortality of the child. This is a non-dilemma and an odd beginning, presenting this case as the turmoil that it is for Fiona.
Fiona has her own issues – her demanding job means she cannot give her husband Jack (Stanley Tucci) the attention he needs and their marriage begins to crumble – and these issues should be given their own space. However, as this plays out in parallel to Adam’s mortality, one has to wonder what is the overall theme here? Is it that personal and public self should remain separated? Should ones desire/needs dictate rational thought? Such uncertainty makes this a narrative mess.
The film treats audiences to some conflict between Adam and his parents, but they’re fleeting at best. Instead, the film wants to focus on Fiona’s issues more, despite the real conflict being elsewhere. More of Adam and his parents during the trial, please!
What’s astonishing is most of what has been highlighted so far occurs in the first half of the movie. The film then veers off into a strange direction that makes minimal sense from a thematic standpoint, as well as a character motivation perspective. It becomes very strange. Though Whitehead’s performance as the confused and angry young Adam is wholly sympathetic.
Holding this film together are the strong performances from everyone, and the slick directing from filmmaker Richard Eyre (best known for his theatre work as well as Iris and Notes on a Scandal – the latter you can see the similarities). Where it falls apart is a worn-out story that pulls at the emotional heartstrings a little too hard for some easy wins.
The Children Act has all the ingredients for a thought-provoking and daring, piece of cinema. Instead, it’s focused on the wrong stuff for too long, and aims for emotional manipulation as opposed to intellectual resonance.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★