Directed by: Richard Eyre
Runtime: 105 minutes
The Children Act follows Fiona Maye (Emma Thompson), a highly successful judge in the United Kingdom. As her marriage crumbles around her, a case of a young teenage boy who is refusing treatment because of his religious beliefs is presented to her. Initially seen to be an open and shut case, due to the Children Act (protecting children from harm and essentially removing parental rights), Fiona soon finds herself in the difficult position of having to broker a deal between religion, the human soul and the law.
Emma Thompson and Stanley Tucci have excellent performances, with their collapsing marriage being placed at the forefront of this film. Stanley Tucci’s Jack is a surprisingly sympathetic character as he is open about their failing marriage and his imminent affair, feeling trapped in an emotionless marriage with a woman who won’t acknowledge his existence. Similarly, Fiona is an understandable character as she is clearly struggling internally with previous miscarriages and a lack of children of her own. As the film progresses, Fiona becomes captivated by the young Adam Henry as his once simple case becomes more complex.
Adam Henry (Fionn Whitehead) is also a compelling character, a young Jehovah’s witness who is refusing treatment for his leukaemia due to his religious beliefs. In an unorthodox display, Fiona decides to meet with Adam personally to help her decide the child’s fate. Instantly enamoured by each other, Fiona instantly makes her decision to follow the Children Act and save him both from his religion and himself. At this point, I was quite surprised, assuming that the entire plot was going to be based on the conclusion of this case. However, the case is quickly settled and moved past. At this point the plot slows down, as the conclusion of the case and the chemistry between Adam was the driving factor of the film.
But the plot soon takes an interesting turn as Adam becomes obsessed with Fiona, wanting to gain clarity from her about the meaning of life and the soul. The film touches on incredibly controversial issues of the separation of religion and law, but it delves further still into the fragility of teenage faith and how this can have a profound effect on their personal development. Soon, Adam becomes lost and can’t seem to understand his parent’s decision to let him die for his faith.
While the film does a good job of approaching these issues, Adam’s somewhat forced obsession with Fiona undermines the deep connection these characters have as he attempts a romance with her. However, this is only briefly touched on and their relationship continues to have a profound effect on the initially closed-off Fiona.
By the conclusion of the film, I was a little confused about what the point of it all was. While it is interesting to touch on issues of faith and the law, this could have been at the forefront, rather than in the background. Adam’s existential crisis is also far too short and could have been delved into deeper to make the conclusion of the film more powerful and enlightening. The Children Act suffers from a slow plot despite its excellent actors, but overall the message is reflective and meaningful.