The Children Act, directed by Richard Eyre, poses an interesting dilemma; a moral question that grabs a hold of your inner voice and has it conflicted. It approaches its morally charged dilemma with strongly positioned characters who pull you into what should ultimately be a compelling, challenging film. But the handling of certain plot elements leaves the film struggling to achieve what it set out to tackle, which has leaves things feeling unfulfilling. So, let’s dive deeper into this film and see if it’s still able to offer a story that is worth your time.
We follow Fiona Maye – played by Emma Thompson – who is a judge in the High Court of Justice. She tackles many difficult cases, but her newest one sees her deciding if a 17-year old boy, Adam Henry – played by Fionn Whitehead – should receive a blood transfusion which will help to cure him of his leukaemia. However, the problem is that Adam and his family are Jehovah’s Witnesses and thus it is forbidden for him to receive a blood transfusion. The decision rests with Fiona – a decision that is hard enough to make on a normal day but adding to the stress of the situation is that Fiona’s marriage is also in trouble and everything seems to be crumbling down around her.
It’s in the difficult dilemma that The Children Act poses that some of the most engaging scenes come from. The situation surrounding Adam is one that will undoubtedly stir-up strong opinions within an audience as they watch the film. I found myself fully invested and eager to see how the story of Adam and what would happen to him would play out. The beginning of this film is when it’s at its strongest. The elements it introduces and how it goes about exploring them all do a great job of pulling you in and making you want to stick with the film (something that sadly doesn’t persist as the it progresses).
One of the smartest things the film does is it never forces an opinion on you. As the court case is playing out and we are hearing all of the details of how Adam is suffering and how it will get worse, the film never takes a particular stance on the situation. It has characters on both sides of the debate make their case for why their way is right. By never taking a side and by offering up all of the information available, it allows us the audience to come to our own conclusion. I never felt coerced or bullied into having to think the way the film wanted me to think. I approached the debate with my views and I got to have them reshaped by all that the film offered and explored.
And it’s during this time that some really great character development occurs. We really get a good sense of who Fiona is, how driven she is and what the little nuances to her everyday life are that make up the experienced, hard-working judge she is. And it’s also the time in which we get the most exploration of her home life and her struggling marriage. The film sets up the side story of her husband, Jack Maye – played by Stanley Tucci – deciding to have an affair and that obviously having a severe impact on Fiona. It was in these early scenes that I felt Fiona and the characters around her were greatly fleshed out.
We also get to see her interact with Adam, and the scenes between the two of them are truly quite lovely in the beginning. It’s also here that we once again get to see the understated talent of Fionn Whitehead – who many will recognise from Dunkirk. He has such a presence on-screen. He pulls all attention to him and is somehow able to be instantly likeable and intriguing, with only a few simple actions. He’s an actor who’s going to go onto do some truly incredible work.
But then is there a shift in the film. In the second act, the story takes a turn that I was not expecting and at first it had me very interested to see where it would go. A new dynamic between Fiona and Adam was forming and it saw the film going down a road that seemed bold and potentially rich in drama. However, the film then enters into a cyclical experience. It’s clear that it’s driving towards something and it makes a few interesting stops along the way, but for the most part it felt as if the film had lost its direction and was just aimlessly going from one scene to another and repeating itself more than once.
What makes it all the worse is that the initial depth and interesting dual storylines lose the development they’d first had. The entire subplot disappears from the film and it’s never given a suitable conclusion. And the main story just doesn’t feel like it’s accomplishing anything. Add to that, the film began to feel as if there was an emotional chasm forming between me and it. Scenes felt cold and hollow.
The once exciting spark between Fiona and Adam had disappeared and the film felt as if it had lost all sense of what to do. Everything that was once enticing and interesting was now being passed by, and in the end, nothing felt as if it was achieved. It’s a shame because the film starts off so strong. I thought I had a good sense of what type of experience I was going to get; what type of story was going to be told and what may lay ahead for the characters, but none of it came to be.
What seems very apparent after seeing the film in full is that it wasn’t able to adapt the novel it was based upon into something that worked within the medium. The script wasn’t able to bring all the pieces together in a satisfying way and the cameras weren’t able to make the story one that was enjoyable to watch on the big screen. If I’m being honest, this seems like a story that’s far better suited for the stage, rather than the cinema (it may already have been made into a play, I’m not sure, but if not, someone should get on that).
So, The Children Act ended up not being what I was hoping it would be. There is a lot of lost potential when it comes to its story and its characters. I feel I should be clear in stating that the film isn’t bad. I still found little elements here-and-there to keep me watching until the end. It’s just that the film had the opportunity to explore some really interesting drama, but it failed to do so.
And so, would I tell you to watch this film? Well, I will recommend, The Children Act, but with a condition. This isn’t a film you need to rush to the cinema to see. It simply doesn’t warrant spending the money or the time to go to the cinema and watch it on a big screen. I’d wait until it comes to your preferred streaming service and then give it a watch. It’s the only way I can justify recommending this film to you. Whenever and however you end up watching The Children Act, I hope you find those little nuggets of goodness, like I did, and that they make it all worth it.
What are your thoughts on The Children Act? What did you think of my review of it? Sound off in the comments down below letting me know all that you thought. If you liked what you read here, may I suggest considering following both my blog and my Twitter – @GavinsRamblings – as it’ll help me to grow my little corner of the internet into something more. But I’ll end my ramblings now and sign off by offering you my sincere thanks for dedicating some of your precious time towards reading my silly little blog. Thank you, and have a marvellous day!