Directed by: Richard Eyre
Produced by: Duncan Kenworthy
Screenplay based on his Novel by: Ian McEwan
Starring: Emma Thompson, Stanley Tucci, Fionn Whitehead, Ben Chaplin, Jason Watkins, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Anthony Calf, Rosie Cavaliero, Eileen Walsh, Nicholas Jones and Rupert Vansittart.
The Children Act is based on the novel written by Ian Ewan – he also writes the screenplay stating he started writing after spending time with ‘a handful of judges’ who were ‘talking shop’.
A Sir Alan Ward (an appeal court judge) left the table to consult a bound volume of his own judgments to settle a disagreement. Ian found himself with the book, reading the judgments and finding the cases written like short stories, those involved captured in broad strokes, the dilemma written with sympathy for the ones who inevitably lose.
Several years later, The Children Act was written.
The film opens with the sound of a gentle heartbeat, blood reaching through arteries like the branches of trees the film revolving around a case where a seventeen-year-old Jehovah Witness boy, Adam (Fionn Whitehead) who has leukemia, refuses a blood transfusion because of his faith.
To the Jehovah Witness, the soul, like life itself, lives in the blood, therefore, it belongs to God. To allow another person’s blood or soul enter his veins would be blasphemous.
The hospital moves to force the transfusion under the instruction of The Children Act, 1989:
“When a court determines any question with respect to … the upbringing of a child … the child’s welfare shall be the court’s paramount consideration.”
The case lands on eminent High Court judge Fiona Maye (Emma Thompson), who now childless and struggling in the relationship with her husband Jack (Stanley Tucci) because of her commitment to her career, finds her emotions breaking through her usual cold rational as she decides the fate of Adam’s life – to allow him to die for his faith, or to force him to live at the cost of his beliefs.
She decides to hear from Adam himself, to see that he understands the painful death that awaits at the refusal of the transfusion.
A highly unusual circumstance, she sits by his hospital bed and ends up singing with him as he plays his guitar.
This is a practical, concise and highly intelligent woman who has sworn not to allow her emotion to enter her decision-making process – her place is to make decisions based on law not morals.
All the while imagining her husband having an affair, writing a text, ‘Having fun?’ Then having to delete the text when work and making life and death decisions for other people and their families once again become the priority.
When Adam survives, when his life is more important than his dignity, he chases the only one who understands: the woman who decided to save his life at the cost of his religion.
Emma Thompson makes a strong performance as she shows Fiona Maye’s clarity of mind when making a judgment in court balanced against the confusion and overflow of hurt when her husband explains his unhappiness in their marriage: ‘Do you remember the last time we made love?’ he asks.
‘No idea!’ she states while pouring over the arguments for and against the separation of conjoined twins – to decide whether one should die as sacrifice for the other, or whether to leave their fate in the hands of God.
Then we see this fascinating case of Adam played-out in court: from the medical side, to the point of view of his parents, to the clear mind of a judge entangled in emotion from her personal life, to still be able to make concise decisions; the consequences of her decision shown in this strange and precocious boy who lives. Who wants to know more about the life he feels he owes to her.
The film asks the question: if you save a life, are you responsible for that life?
Not in the court of law.
The Children Act is a quietly emotive film that gives a deeper understanding of those stories we’ve all read in the papers.
It’s a thought-provoking film about how the court has more power over life than religion. And the cost it takes from those who make the judgment and the ones who have to live with a decision not their own.