Film Review – The Children Act (2018)

by Adina Bernstein
The Children Act

Life is never black and white, no matter how much we may wish it to be. There are always shades of grey that bring in unforeseen complications into what may seem like a black and white issue. This idea is the undercurrent of the new movie, The Children Act.

The following review will be spoiler free.


Directed By: Richard Eyre

Written By: Ian McEwan

Based On The Book By: Ian McEwan

Starring: Emma Thompson, Stanley Tucci and Fionn Whitehead

Fiona Maye (Emma Thompson) is a family court judge whose work life is spilling into her home life. Her American husband Jack Maye (Stanley Tucci) simply wants to spend time with his wife of 20-ish years. But because she is hyper focused on her work, Fiona is unable to see or understand that her marriage is potentially falling apart.  The case that is taking up her time at this juncture in her career is the case of Adam Henry (Fionn Whitehead). Adam is a 17-year-old boy suffering from Leukemia.

Adam is a few months shy of his 18th birthday. His doctors have recommended a blood transplant because it would save his life. But because he is a Jehovah’s Witness, he cannot accept the transplant due to his faith. The hospital has brought Adam’s parents to court to force them to accept the transplant. Adam’s parents are defending their refusal based on their religious beliefs.

When the case comes before Fiona, she makes the unorthodox decision to visit Adam in the hospital to help her make her decision.  This short visit both opens the door to new emotions for Adam and long-buried emotions for Fiona. Neither know that the time they spend together will affect both of their lives in profound ways.

The Power Of A Subtle Narrative And Ever Subtler Questions

This movie (based on the book of the same name by Ian McEwan) is powerful in the subtlest manner possible. It does not hit the audience over the head with the underlying question of the film. It asks questions in a way that is subversive and thought-provoking in a way that completely unexpected. Walking out of the movie theater, I was confronted with the complicated questions that the filmmakers asked their audience. Can a marriage built on love, companionship and loyalty survive, even after twenty years, when one spouse has their head in their work all day? Can a Judge truly rule on a case when the family is defending their actions based on their faith, but the hospital insists on going forward with the procedure that will save someone’s life?

the children act

image via Variety

The Importance Of Character Development

One of the film’s finer qualities is the change that Fiona and Adam both go through. It’s as if the world has opened anew for both and each are facing emotional challenges that can’t help but alter who they are as human beings. By the time the closing credits run, both Fiona and Adam feel like different people.

If there was any role that was tailor made for Emma Thompson, this role is it. A lesser actress would have not been able to play Fiona as fully human as Emma Thompson does. She is able to make Fiona likable and approachable, in spite of her flaws. As an audience member, it would have been easy to hate Fiona for the callous way she was throwing away her marriage and ignoring her husband. But Thompson’s nuanced performance, especially when she begins to get to know and understand Adam outside of the jurisdiction of her job, makes the audience understand Fiona and her reasons for acting as she does.

Stanley Tucci Finally Gets His Due As An Actor

Playing a scorned spouse, especially when one is loosing their husband or wife to the job should, on paper, be an easy role to play. Many a scorned spouse on screen has turned to drink or the arms of another man or woman. But Tucci’s plays a man who just wants his life and his marriage back. He may say that he is willing to step out of the marriage to find the relationship he once had with his wife, but the reality is that Jack loves and supports Fiona as much as he ever did before.

the children act

image via the LA Times

Fionn Whitehead Is An Extraordinary Young Actor

There have been many films about young people trying to figure out how to live life on their terms. What Fionn Whitehead brings to the role of Adam is an understanding that only a young person who has faced a life threatening illness and survived can have.  There is seriousness balanced with a new found love of life that feels joyous and powerful. It is also the feeling with Adam that the world is his oyster. He is young, he is finally healthy and just wants to see what life can offer him.

Final Thoughts

The Children Act resonated with me because, unlike other films, it did not underestimate my intelligence as an audience member. It made me think, it made feel and most of all, it made appreciate that I am alive.

Grade: A+

the children act

image via RTE

Thank you for reading! What are you thoughts on The Children Act? Comment down below!

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The Animation Commendation September 30, 2018 - 11:24 am

I wanna see this just for the story.

Liz Gauffreau September 30, 2018 - 11:23 am

This one is a definite MUST-SEE! Thanks for the review.

Nick Kush September 30, 2018 - 11:11 am

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