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18th of November 2018


Review: Transfusion and Transference in ‘The Children Act’

Adapted by Ian McEwan from his 2014 novel and smoothly directed by Richard Eyre, “The Children Act” stars Emma Thompson as Fiona Maye, a British judge who must decide whether to require Adam, a 17-year-old with leukemia, to receive a blood transfusion. Adam is a Jehovah’s Witness, and blood transfusion runs counter to the religion’s tenets and his parents’ beliefs — and therefore his own.

VideoA preview of the film.Published OnSept. 4, 2018

Fiona visits him at the hospital before rendering a verdict. The encounter and the decision, and the asymmetries in the consequences for Adam (Fionn Whitehead, from “Dunkirk”) and Fiona, reverberate though the rest of the action.

“The Children Act” makes for a more wieldy movie than this year’s earlier “On Chesil Beach,” which Mr. McEwan also adapted from his own book, in that case relying on retaining rhythms and chronological jumps better suited to the page. Here, a beautifully internalized performance from Ms. Thompson and the various efforts to highlight the cinematic potential in Fiona’s anguish — the climax plays out during a piano recital — can’t override the tidy ironies of Mr. McEwan’s design.

Fiona is a custodian of children who has no children. She is a gifted listener, yet is too professional and emotionally guarded to truly hear what Adam has to say. And as Fiona’s husband (Stanley Tucci) puts it, in a blunt statement of themes, Fiona is an authority on family problems who neglects to address her own. Yet the movie finally punts on grappling with its ambiguities. The finale feels functional rather than haunting.

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