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The Children Act

"Dame Emma Thompson shines in Ian McEwan's compelling tale"

★★★★½ - STUFF 

- High Court judge Fiona Maye (Emma Thompson) is used to the time pressure and intense public interest some of her cases put her under.

But her most recent one has affected her a little more.

Having to make a decision about whether to allow doctors, against the parents' wishes, to separate conjoined twins, even though one of them will die as a result, has left Maye feeling emotionally and physically drained.

Worse still, her home life is falling apart. Concerned that it is 11 months since they've made love, husband Jack (Stanley Tucci) is dismayed that they've ended up "more like siblings" than husband and wife and declares his intention to have an affair.

Despite reeling from that news, all Maye can do is throw herself into her work. After all, she's the duty judge all weekend and has two judgments due by Monday.

And then into her life comes the case of Adam Henry (Dunkirk's Fionn Whitehead). A 17-year-old leukaemia patient, he badly needs a blood transfusion. Unfortunately, his parents and his religion (Jehovah's Witness) forbid such a procedure, as they believe "the soul is in the blood".

With time very much of the essence, Maye decides to take the radical solution of visiting the boy in hospital because she needs to know that "he has thought this through". It's a decision that will alter the course of both their lives.

Adapted by Ian McEwan (AtonementOn Chesil Beach) from his own 2014 novel, The Children Act provides plenty of food for thought and compelling drama.

He and director Richard Eyre do a terrific job of keeping the audience guessing as Maye lets herself be drawn into her latest case in a deeper way than intended. Children also acts as a terrific portrait of two marriages in crisis –Maye's own and that of Adam's parents. 

Of course, it helps that Eyre and McEwan can also draw on a terrific cast that include newly minted Dame Emma Thompson (The Remains of the DayHoward's End) in one of her finest performances in years, a heart-wrenching Whitehead (whose mother had apparently just died from the same cancer), the always reliable Tucci (Julie and JuliaSpotlight) and a fabulous supporting cast that includes Ben Chaplin and Eileen Walsh.

At times, it does feel more like a stage play than a feature film, but that's only because of the intensity of the emotions on display.

Likewise, the more measured pacing won't be for everyone.

However, this is a riposte for anyone who thinks that all the great contemporary British drama can only be found on television.

- James Croot, STUFF

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