‘I’m always too busy. The law can take over your life.’
A great film needs all of its components to be great – a unification of script, direction, performance to name but a few elements. When one of these is significantly stronger than the others, it shows. When one of these is significantly weaker. it shows. The Children Act is an example of a film that has both problems.
Fiona (Emma Thompson) is a respected High Court Judge who specialises in family law. She oversees cases that are literal life and death, making crucial decisions involving the health and wellbeing of a children on a daily basis. It’s taken first priority in her life, above all else, including her husband Jack (Tucci) who has become worn out by the lack of attention and intimacy in their marriage. So much so that he informs her that he intends to pursue an affair with a colleague. Fiona loses herself in her latest high profile cases involving a 17 year old boy who is refusing a blood transfusion, one that will in all likelihood save his life, because of his religious beliefs.
It’s performances are incredible – Emma Thomson knocks it out of the park with what may just be the best performance of her career. She’s simply incredible from start to finish. Remember that scene in Love Actually (Hint: Joni Mitchell)? Remember the heartbreak you felt whilst watching it, gripped by her every move and gesture as she seemed to embody every single emotion making us ache with empathy. She’s that level for the entirety of this film. It’s of the standard that the phrase awards-worthy was made for. Within the film she is referred to as ‘My Lady’, a term of address that suits her so much it should be made permanent.
Tucci remains, as ever, the gift we do not deserve. Jason Watkins has a small supporting role yet manages to do much with it. Newcomer Fionn Whitehead (perhaps best known for his role in Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk) proves himself to be an enigmatic performer with a captivating performance that marks him as one to watch.
It’s such a shame, therefore, that the story itself doesn’t fully hold itself together. The premise is an intriguing one which remains underdeveloped and forgotten in favour of soap opera. The script is clunky and hammy. The tone and direction is uneven, descending into saccharine melodrama in the final act.
The end product is a film that is more frustrating and flawed rather than the fulfilling drama the trailer promises. When a film spends the eternity of its running time trying to be ‘meaningful’ and ‘important’ the outcome can only be sluggish and disappointing.
The Children Act is in UK cinemas now.