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|The Children Act
dir Richard Eyre
scr Ian McEwan
prd Duncan Kenworthy
with Emma Thompson, Stanley Tucci, Fionn Whitehead, Jason Watkins, Ben Chaplin, Anthony Calf, Rosie Cavaliero, Eileen Walsh, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Rupert Vansittart, Nicholas Jones, Michele Austin
release UK 24.Aug.18, US 14.Sep.18
17/UK BBC 1h45
Touching a nerve: Whitehead and Thompson
TORONTO FILM FEST
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E
Punchy themes swirl provocatively through this British drama, which is unsurprising since it's based on an Ian McEwan novel. The author has adapted it himself for director Richard Eyre, who brings a dense theatricality to the film. Yes, it feels a lot like a stage play, with complex characters talking through meaty issues that raise important questions without glib answers. It also carries an emotional wallop.
A High Court judge specialising in child-based cases, Fiona (Thompson) is bound to The Children Act, which protects young people with the force of law. As her marriage to Jack (Tucci) hits rocky ground, she's confronted with the thorny case of 17-year-old Adam (Whitehead). He needs a blood transfusion to halt his leukaemia, but he and his parents (Chaplin and Walsh) are Jehovah's Witnesses. Should Fiona order the hospital to treat Adam against his and his parents' wishes? And when she meets Adam, she crosses a line emotionally, even though she knows the law.
The story is packed with parallels in the way Fiona applies the law with precision and compassion in court then struggles to react with the same cool head as her domestic situation unravels. Balancing emotion and logic isn't easy on either side. In fine McEwan style, the connections are oblique and challenging, forcing the audience into a number of moral dead ends along with Fiona. Which only makes her increasingly moving reactions that much more devastating to watch.
It helps of course to have an actress like Thompson in the role. She's able to be offhanded, brusque, charming and hilarious at the same time, so Fiona becomes a remarkably vivid character. And her messy life feels strikingly realistic, especially as she deals, or fails to deal, with each thing that comes along as the story continues on its twisty path. Tucci and Whitehead both have pungent scenes all their own as equally layered men trying to crack through Fiona's shell.
For an audience, it's refreshing to grapple with McEwan's use of grey moral shadings rather than the usual absolute black and white approach most movies take. This script demands attention and reaction, never letting the audience relax into simplistic arguments. Even more important than the legal case, Fiona's personal journey is packed with wrinkles that push her in a direction that seems to violate her closely held beliefs about her job and marriage. So if the film feels a little murky and tentative, it still gets very deep under the skin.
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© 2018 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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