Sunday, September 23, 2018

Emma Thompson, superb as usual, in Richard Eyre and Ian McEwan's THE CHILDREN ACT

If you are looking for a movie full of ideas, excellent performances and situations that will move you and make you think -- without actually forcing you into some preordained box -- THE CHILDREN ACT may be exactly your cup of classy British tea.

As written by Ian McEwan (from his novel) and directed by Richard Eyre, the film probes subjects such as oddball religion beliefs, the law, justice, and most especially, what your responsibility is to someone whose life you have entered and irrevocably changed.

Mr. Eyre (Stage Beauty, Notes on a Scandal), a director of theater, opera, film and television, pictured at right, has had an up-and-down movie career, and this is one of his "ups," encompassing so much so gracefully that you may find yourself thinking about the film as much after viewing as during.

The film's main character is a noteworthy British judge named Fiona Maye, played exceptionally well by Emma Thompson (below), whose workload seem to concentrate most on cases involving children at risk. She soon finds herself embroiled in a case involving a family of Jehovah's Witnesses whose teenage son desperately needs a blood transfusion that the son and his parents all reject for religious reasons.

Simultaneously Judge Maye is going through a bad time in her sexless, emotionless long-term marriage to her University professor husband Jack (a tamped-down but still effective Stanley Tucci, below), who is about to embark upon an extra-marital affair. When the judge decides that she must meet with and question the son regarding his reasons for not agreeing to the blood transfusion, everything suddenly begins to change.

How and why this happens provides the meat of the movie, and, my, is there a wealth to chew on. All of it is held together via Ms Thompson's very strong performance -- which is spot-on moment to moment. The actress takes us through changes minute and major, allowing us to see clearly her character, flaws and all, helping us understand the reasons for each new decision that she must make.

In the pivotal role of the son, Dunkirk actor Fionn Whitehead (above) is even more remarkable here. He captures both the closed-off strength of the religious cult believer and then the strange, sad, buoyant freedom that can come via the release from that brainwashing. A word, too, must be said for the fine Jason Watkins, who plays the judge's aide, a kind, quiet fellow would clearly do anything for his boss yet is treated by her as something approaching the invisible.

What happens in the course of this thoughtful, deeply felt and surprisingly realistic film involves such sudden and life-changing events that even the possibility of these happening to our cast of characters offers more real nourishment that a year's worth of the overdone plots of mainstream soap operas. Viewers who insist on melodrama and cliché may go away unsated, but those who appreciate genuine feeling -- along with characters who struggle with right and wrong and all the stuff in between -- will come away from this film richly rewarded.

From A24 and  running 105 minutes, The Children Act seems to have opened here in South Florida one week prior to its originally scheduled playdate. It hit theaters this past Friday, September 21, at the Movies of Delray and Lake Worth, the Living Room Theaters, and the Tower Theater in Miami. Wherever you live across the country, click here to find the theaters nearest you. If you can[t find a theater close to you, note that the movie is also playing simultaneously via DIRECTV.

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