Tuesday, 28 August 2018

Film: 'The Children Act'

When I first saw the trailer for this I had exalted hopes. I've read half a dozen of Ian McEwan's novels, though not this one, and he's rapidly become one of my favourite living writers. (He also wrote the screenplay for this film)

Any film starring Emma Thompson is already a 'must', and when it has the added attraction of Stanley Tucci as second in the cast then there's absolutely no question of missing it. 

Thompson is a High Court Judge in London whose remit includes decisions on some cases involving controversial questions, she having to observe a distinct dividing line between rulings in accordance with the established law of the land while keeping at arm's length varying opinions regarding the morality of such laws. 
Her busy schedule in which she takes work home has resulted in her 20-year marriage to the Stanley Tucci character long having gone 'off the boil', leaving him admitting to his wife that he's yearning to look for 'experience' elsewhere, all to her evident displeasure. 
Meanwhile a case comes up which will have larger repercussions than she realises - a situation where a young man (Ffion Whitehead) just shy of his 18th birthday and therefore legally still a minor under the guardianship of his parents, has developed leukaemia and needs a blood transfusion which would prevent him undergoing an almost inevitable slow and agonising death. All three of them are practising Jehovah's Witnesses and are withholding their permission for a transfusion. The hospital where he is being treated insists that this is the sole means for saving his life. Thompson is required to adjudicate and, prior to doing so, takes the unusual step of visiting the young patient in hospital, an act which turns out to involve her deeper than is desirable.

For the first approx. two thirds of the film I was thinking "This is really good." I'd read several critics who were less than impressed and up to this point I was sure they were wrong. Then........well, it's not something actually happening which turns it near fatally - ensuing events are actually just an extension of what had gone before  - but it goes into territory which I found just too hard to swallow as credible given the nature of Thompson's character. It's a shame because up to that point the storyline held such promise. I was also wanting to know more about Stanley Tucci's character. However, it must be said that although he's given star billing he really does play second fiddle to Thompson's judge and I don't think he has a single scene (every one of which is with her) more than a couple of minutes long. It's a pity because I've always liked him and I really thought that this could be his first really major screen role. Alas, it was not to be. 

I think I read somewhere that the film's ending is different from that of the novel, even though the screenplay was written by the same. Whether that's the case or not I didn't find the film's conclusion very satisfactory - not so much a case of loose endings, more one of being off-kilter from the rest of the film.

Director Richard Eyre has given us a handful of superb films in recent years, including 'Notes on a Scandal', 'Iris' and the much earlier 'The Draughtman's Contract'. He deals a good hand with this one too, but I don't think that as an entity it comes close to his best to date. 

If the whole film had been on the same level of excellence as the more-than-first half I might have ended up rating this with an '8', certainly at least a '7.5'. Regretfully I have to pull it down a bit from there, giving it a score which for many films receiving from me such a rating would be classified as 'good', but in this case reflecting what I regard as failed promise..............6.5.

(IMDb............6.6 / Rott. Toms............6.2 ) 


  1. It sounds like it'd be really good. The story, Thompson and Tucci. Too bad it went south for you.

    1. Even if it did turn out to be a bit of a let-down for me, Bob, I would NOT tell anyone to avoid it. There's a lot to enjoy here. I just shouldn't have put such high hopes on it, based largely on the casting of the 'big two'.

  2. I think you sumed up the dissatisfaction that many have felt ( including myself) and how the movie panned out.
    It didn't feel like a movie..it felt like a tv film that didn't quite deliver

    1. Yes, I suppose it could have worked just the same as a telly film with little difference, the whole thing being a case of 'what ought to have been but wasn't'.

  3. Last week, I read the last page of "On Chesil Beach" and reluctantly put it down. I then ordered "The Children Act" and yesterday it arrived. This morning, your review of the film is staring me in the face. How coincidental is that? Of course, I'll see the film but it will probably get lost here which means I'll probably have to wait for the DVD or if it is streamed, whichever comes first.

    1. What did you think of the novel 'On Chesil Beach'? I was knocked out by it, as you'll have gathered if you read my review of the film (last May) - and the film does fully live up to the print original.
      Yes, it's a strange coincidence of your just receiving 'The Children Act' at this moment. I really must and I will read the book. The film hasn't put me off one bit, and I'm very curious indeed to know if any differences between novel and film are major ones.
      As I say above, I would urge anyone to see the film despite my great reservation. I've yet to find a 'major' reviewer who thinks that the film is perfect throughout, though it does come very close to being so in its earlier parts.
      You won't miss much if you only get to see it on small screen as there are no 'spectacular' shots.
      Will be particularly interested in finding out what you think of both novel and film.

    2. My thoughts regarding the novella "On Chesil Beach" - a masterpiece, all the way to the haunting end. Giving the work further thought, how wisely McEwan set the tone, choosing an era of sexual repression, just before the sexual revolution.

      I want to address your last paragraph regarding viewing film on the small screen. Technology has advanced so rapidly. Televisions now have huge screens, crystal-clear pictures, perfect ratio and a sound system that will knock your socks off. Also, the best part -no distractions. I've reached the point I now enjoy most films on the "small screen."

    3. Re: Your second para above - so I've heard, Paul. Neither am I in a position to own one of these super-screens myself I've not even seen one in anyone else's house - hardly surprising since I know no one whose house I can go to - so it's outside my experience, so far.
      Being without distractions appeals, of course, though I must say there's an addition 'frisson' when I feel I'm enjoying a film with an attentive audience who are getting it at the same level as I am, particularly so with good comedies I'd cite Woody Allen films when he was at his best, but his is a name one is wary of mentioning these days for obvious reasons.
      I think when I can afford one of these super-duper screens I may well be converted but until then the cinema remains my ideal place to watch a good film.

      And btw: You and I are at one with 'On Chesil Beach', the novel. I'd still be interested to hear what you thought of the film, if you've seen it.

    4. Ray, Yes, I've seen "On Chesil Beach" and loved it. But after viewing it, I still found myself thinking about it. Reading the novella answered some of the questions I had. Probably this evening, I will give the film another go.

      I have read the first few pages of "The Children Act" and I am impressed with the author's prose. Hopefully, this Sunday I can sit down and give it the full attention it deserves. Btw, Another blogger has ordered the book and has begun reading it. I hope that she posts a review of it.


    5. Glad you appreciated the Film of 'On Chesil Beach' as much as I did, Paul. Must say that I'd had misgivings before seeing it as the novel is so much centred around emotions rather than action and dialogue, but it vaults these obstacles very impressively. I don't recall having particular unresolved queries about the film, though I'd have to see it again to remind me, something which I was determined to do in any case.

      The film of 'Children Act' hasn't at all, put off my desire to read the novel. In fact because of what you say as well as the film itself, I'm more determined than ever to experience it on the page.

      Have you got round to reading 'Amsterdam'? If not, I can recommend it without reservation. It quite justifiably won the 1998 Booker prize for new literature and shows McEwan at his peak. Btw: Don't be misled, as I was, by the title. The city (one which I know, or used to know, very well indeed) only features in the novel's closing pages and, as far as I remember, has no special significance other than that.

      Looking forward to hearing, probably through you, if this lady blogger puts out a review of 'Children', the novel.