Emma Thompson is going to be very busy this awards season. She delivers an extraordinarily brilliant, intensely moving, enchantingly witty, and remarkably vulnerable performance as High Court judge Fiona Maye in The Children Act. She is one of those rare compelling performers that allows an audience to simply enjoy watching her think.
The usually stoic Maye is fittingly referred to as “My Lady” in the courtroom. As My Lady, Maye appears professional, reserved, objective and very well informed. With the help of her devoted and diligent clerk, Nigel (Jason Watkins shines in this poignant supporting role), she tirelessly researches every case because a child’s life is often on the line.
“two months shy of his eighteenth birthday when he is diagnosed with leukemia…mixing the blood of different people is blasphemy…”
It is easy to understand how and why someone in her important position would become consumed by her work. However, her husband, Jack, (marvelously portrayed by the undeniably charismatic Stanley Tucci) has reached the limit of his patience. He is tired of her prioritizing work over their relationship. At home, My Lady is perceived as a withdrawn workaholic who has grown apart from her loving husband.
Tucci and Thompson’s intimate, raw, and nuanced scenes together are wickedly funny and uncomfortably upsetting. Their arguments play as a real and relatable couple at a critical crossroads. They truly love each other, but they’ve been gradually growing apart. In the midst of this marital conundrum, Maye is presented with a life-changing case.
“…extraordinarily brilliant, intensely moving, enchantingly witty, and remarkably vulnerable performance…”
Adam (Dunkirk’s phenomenal Fionn Whitehead) is two months shy of his eighteenth birthday when he is diagnosed with leukemia and in need of a blood transfusion. As a Jehovah’s Witness, his family believes blood is sacred. Mixing the blood of different people is blasphemy, so Adam refuses treatment. His parents cannot change his mind and the hospital has a duty to save his life. Adam’s fate rests in My Lady’s hands. After hearing about how special Adam is in court, she makes the unconventional decision to visit the boy in person.
When Adam and My Lady meet, both of their lives are instantly changed. They embark on a fascinating, touching, slightly awkward and incredibly endearing journey of self-discovery. Whitehead perfectly captures the transitional age when a curious and precocious teenager is growing into his own. His chemistry with Thompson is wonderful and they play off of each other so beautifully.
The Children Act is a masterpiece from beginning to end and it should not be missed.
The Children Act (2018) Directed by Richard Eyre. Written by Ian McEwan. Starring Emma Thompson, Stanley Tucci, Fionn Whitehead, Jason Watkins, and Ben Chaplin. The Children Act played as part of the 2018 San Francisco International Film Festival.
5 out of 5 stars