While Judge Fiona Maye (Emma Thompson) deals with an ethically complicated family law case, her marriage to Jack (Stanley Tucci) is falling apart.
Jack announces that he’s going to have an affair, because he’s tired of the fact that Fiona never has time for him anymore and the last time they were intimate in any way was months ago. As Fiona is trying to deal with this, she has to rule on the case of 17-year-old Adam (Fionn Whitehead), who is suffering from leukaemia and is refusing blood transfusion on religious principle.
Judge Fiona Maye isn’t a very vocal person when it comes to her personal life. When Jack tells her he’s going to have an affair and leaves the house for a couple of days, Fiona doesn’t talk to anyone about this and when Jack returns she’s standoffish, saying barely a few words to him and walking away most of the time.
Instead Fiona is seen brooding quietly in her office, in cabs, and while walking down the street. Although what she’s thinking and feeling is never said out loud, it is perfectly clear and visible to the viewer that she’s hurt and tense, but wants to remain professional and composed at work, and that she wants to talk to Jack, but is too stubborn.
Emma Thompson’s portrayal of this character is mesmerising. The way she lets Fiona’s entire demeanour betray what’s going on inside her head is phenomenal.
Emma doesn’t need any lines to let the viewer know what’s happening. She can do that perfectly well with just a frown or a gaze or the tenseness and speed in her walk.
Her acting is subtle and nuanced, yet powerful and overwhelming. She carries this entire film and she does it gracefully. She is an extraordinarily talented awe-inspiring force of nature if ever there was one.
Fionn Whitehead is perfectly able to hold his own opposite Emma, which I imagine is quite a feat, especially at the age of 21 with only 5 other acting credits to his name.
His performance is raw and intense, playing young Jehovah’s Witness Adam who is determined to refuse the blood transfusion that will save his life.
Throughout the film Adam becomes obsessed with Fiona, who came to see him at the hospital and decided his fate for him by allowing the blood transfusion.
He leaves her voicemail messages and follows her to work wanting to hand her poems and letters he has written. Fiona, ever the distant professional, tells him to stop contacting her, though it is clear from the way she looks back at him and the fact that she keeps his letters and poems that she actually can’t quite let this boy go.
When Adam goes against her wishes and follows her all the way to Newcastle to tell her he wants to come live with her, Fiona rejects him once again and calls a cab to take him home.
The relationship between these two characters is intriguing. At the end of the day, Fiona seems to be as drawn to Adam as he is to her, but she chooses to send him away, being as cold to him as she is in her marriage, while Adam seeks closeness and guidance from the woman who saved his life while his parents (also Jehovah’s Witnesses) would have let him die.
Though Stanley Tucci’s acting is great, he isn’t as much of a presence in this film as I thought he would be. However, it’s hardly his fault as there was simply not enough material for him to work with.
The relationship between Jack and Fiona is lacking in depth because there are too little scenes with them together and because in those few scenes they are together, Fiona remains unwilling to communicate. There just aren’t a lot of directions you can take a relationship in with only a handful of scenes, when you have one of the characters simply huff and turn away at everything the other character says.
I can forgive the lack of depth in Fiona and Jack’s marriage though, because on all other levels this film did not disappoint.
The Children Act swept me off my feet with the superb acting of Emma Thompson, Fionn Whitehead, and even Stanley Tucci when he got his chance in those few scenes. My eyes were fixed on the screen from beginning to end and the film stuck with me after it ended.
4.5 out of 5 stars.