The Children Act (2017)
Reviewed by: Shazia Khan
The Children Act had its first screening at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 9, 2017. The film is an adaption of the novel by Ian McEwan and stars Emma Thompson, Stanley Tucci, and newcomer Fionn Whitehead in the lead roles. Set in London, the plot revolves around High Court Justice Fiona Maye (Thompson) who deals primarily with family law cases. Most of these cases grapple with morally complex subject matter – during the opening sequence Fiona is to determine the fate of two conjoined twins who will die if not separated by surgery, whereas only one will survive if they are separated. The nature of Fiona’s work strains her relationship with her husband Jack (Tucci), who confronts her with his concerns for their loveless marriage and confesses his desire to have an affair. As Fiona deals with the aftermath of their confrontation, the case of Adam Henry is brought to her attention. Adam (Whitehead) is a 17 year old teenager suffering from stage-4 leukemia. While doctors insist that a blood transfusion will save his life, Adam refuses to undergo the procedure as they are Jehovah’s Witnesses and the mixing of blood is forbidden in the belief system. After hearing the opinions of doctors and Adam’s parents, Fiona decides to visit Adam in the hospital in an attempt to understand his perspective of the ordeal. Their meeting winds up deeply impacting both her and Adam, provoking a whirlwind of emotions in the boy and bringing to the surface Emma’s own repressed feelings.
The film contained riveting performances by the lead actors and was filled with profound insights on themes of religion, family, marriage, life and death, and medical and legal law. The nuanced direction beautifully captured the sensitive nature of the film. As a fan of Thompson and her work, I thought her portrayal of Fiona was her most powerful performance in many years. Her performance compelled me to reflect on the various roles and responsibilities that women are obligated to maintain in present society. Modern women are expected to build a successful career and simultaneously perform their duties as a wife and mother, whereas in the past women were only expected to uphold the latter. While Fiona was a reputable career and was renowned in her municipality, the nature of her work was emotionally draining and left her with little energy to consider the ramifications on her personal life. I also found it noteworthy that in the marriage depicted on screen it was the woman who was emotionally distant and the man who was pleading for reconciliation and making attempts to rekindle his relationship with his wife.
Was there smoking in the movie? No. In fact, there were no depictions of substance abuse, including alcohol and other drugs, in the film.
Did the characters appear less believable/realistic because they did not use tobacco? Not at all.
What are the benefits of not having tobacco present on the screen? Tobacco use is often a coping mechanism for adults undergoing stress despite it being obviously unhealthy. By omitting the depiction of tobacco use on screen, tobacco use is not perpetuated as a plausible coping mechanism to relieve stress and tension. The omission of tobacco use also helps to counter the view that tobacco use is normal and acceptable.
Why do you think the movie-makers chose to keep tobacco out of this movie? In my opinion, the filmmakers chose to keep tobacco out of this movie simply because it had no significance to the film’s plot and added no depth to its characters.