- 24 Aug 18
Emma Thompson shines in claustrophobic exploration of emotion and authority
Director Richard Eyre's adaptation of Zoe Heller's Notes On A Scandal was a fascinating, if not wholly successful, exploration of the complex inner lives of middle-aged women. These themes again arise in The Children Act, Eyre's interpretation of Ian McEwan's novel about a family court judge who finds herself in turmoil.
The life of Fiona Maye (Emma Thompson) revolves around protecting and caring for children, though she never had any of her own. Constantly focused on her work, she has allowed her marriage to grow stale and neglectful, and in the absence of passion or even effort, her devoted yet frustrated husband Jack (Stanley Tucci) declares his intention to have an affair.
While her marriage hangs in the balance, so does the life of Adam (Fionn Whitehead), a 17-year-old Jehovah's Witness rejecting a life-saving blood transfusion because it would violate his religion.
When Fiona meets Adam, she bonds with the teenager who is both precocious and naive, and orders that he must be treated. When released from hospital, Adam develops an obsession with Fiona that is simultaneously erotic and childlike. She comes to symbolise both his newfound lust for life, and his animosity towards his parents, who were willing to let him die for their religion.
Fiona, aching with loneliness since Jack's betrayal and questioning her life, has similarly confused if more concealed feelings, too.
Emma Thompso's performance is rich and layered; commanding but vulnerable, controlling yet empathetic, and always elevating the film's subtle explorations of gender, authority and faith. But structurally, The Children Act can feel sluggish and melodramatic, weighed down with the use of superfluous flashbacks, letter-reading voice-overs, and the repeated use of stodgy Bach passages. Intelligent, but airless.