Starring: Emma Thompson, Stanley Tucci, Fionn Whitehead
Director: Richard Eyre
Running Time: 105 mins
The Children Act is a British film about a High Court judge who, while going through a crisis in her personal life, becomes engrossed in the case of a young boy refusing life-saving blood transfusion treatment on the principle of his religion.
This is a really strange film. At first, it’s a riveting and very measured courtroom drama, complete with an excellent lead performance from Emma Thompson and assured direction from Richard Eyre. Then it turns into a rather ridiculous melodrama that completely undoes the good work of the film’s first half, heading towards a bizarre conclusion that just didn’t enthral me in the way that was clearly possible.
Before we get into that, let’s talk about the first half of the movie. By far the better half, it’s a brilliant combination between personal drama and courtroom intrigue that sees Emma Thompson’s fiercely hard-working character heavily impacted by instability in her marriage, bringing unpredictability to her actions in court.
From the start, the film’s characters are established very well, the courtroom sequences are interesting while never being overly dramatic or Hollywood-esque, and the emotional drama is written with a good sense of reason and rationale, all of which gives the film a very assured and grown-up vibe, something that I was very impressed by right the way through.
Director Richard Eyre does a great job early on to make that work, while Emma Thompson gives a performance that both sees her work brilliantly as a hard-working judge and legal expert, as well as a woman who still doesn’t have everything figured out in her own world, despite what many people may think while looking from the outside.
In that, the whole of the film’s first half is really engrossing, and when the focus turns from our leading lady’s emotional distress to a pure courtroom drama, it’s a pretty fantastic watch, with the balance between morals, law, freedom of thought and more all hanging well in the balance in a very measured and thoroughly enthralling watch.
Then, after all that, the movie goes insane in its second half. Apart from the fact that I expected the movie to finish at the end of the central court case, I was bewildered by the direction that the film took towards the finale, doing away with its brilliantly mature and measured atmosphere, and replacing it with something utterly ridiculous, and a story that just doesn’t have the depth of intrigue – or even realism – to make for a genuinely engrossing watch.
The dramatic turmoil of the second half does in part echo the idea of the main character’s own instability despite that measured facade, but it goes way overboard with a story that seems far more ridiculous than it does genuine, and the introduction of a new element of instability in this woman’s life towards the end is really difficult to find fully convincing.
Overall, then, I was a little confused by The Children Act, simply because it’s a film of two completely opposite halves. At first, it’s a riveting, measured and rather impressive drama, and yet afterwards, it’s a ridiculous melodrama with a rather bewildering story that just doesn’t inspire the same intrigue at any moment, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.1.