The Children Act (3 stars)

The Children Act

Emma Thompson and Fionn Whitehead excel in a heavy-handed but provocative Ian McEwan adaptation

The second Ian McEwan novel in recent months to get the cinematic treatment following On Chesil Beach, The Children Act has similarly been adapted by the author. Whether that comes as a recommendation is debatable. Writers aren't always the best choice to bring their darlings to the big screen, although here McEwan is placing it in the hands of experienced director Richard Eyre, who previously collaborated with him on 1983's The Ploughman's Lunch.

The story boasts a cast-iron turn from Emma Thompson, who plays high court judge Fiona Maye. At the outset, her equilibrium is upset when her husband Jack (Stanley Tucci) announces he wants to have an affair, with their marriage having become stagnant. But she soon has other concerns: a heavyweight case involving Adam (Dunkirk star Fionn Whitehead), the 17-year-old son of two Jehovah's Witnesses (Ben Chaplin, Eileen Walsh).

Dangerously ill, Adam is refusing the blood transfusion which will save his life, as per the tenets of his religion. After taking the unusual step of visiting him in hospital, Fiona rules that the doctors are permitted to force the transfusion on him, an act that leads to a strange (and not entirely convincing) chain of events as the recovering Adam gets unhealthily attached to the judge. Moments that defy logic, like how easily he acquires her mobile number, don't play well on screen.

While Eyre has better explored obsession before (in Notes on a Scandal for one), what does impress is the way he convincingly captures a behind-the-scenes snapshot of life as a judge. As you might expect from a director best known for his theatre work, the performances are at the forefront, with Whitehead every bit as magnetic as he was in Dunkirk. True, it's heavy-handed at times, but the issues it raises – law versus religion – are provocative and potently explored.

General release from Fri 24 Aug.

The Children Act

  • 3 stars
  • 2017
  • USA
  • 1h 45min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Richard Eyre
  • Cast: Emma Thompson, Stanley Tucci, Fionn Whitehead
  • UK release: 24 August 2018

Fiona (Thompson) is a High Court judge who finds herself becoming involved with a Jehovah’s Witness teenager (Whitehead) who refuses a blood transfusion for his leukaemia. Heavy-handed adaptation by McEwan of his own novel; not entirely convincing but Eyre brings out fine performances.