Review: Thompson shines as judge in sturdy 'Children Act'

Emma Thompson is excellent in strong adult drama that leaves you wanting more

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic
Emma Thompson in "The Children Act."

Emma Thompson is remarkable in "The Children Act," a layered drama that feels, in the best way possible, like being plunged into the middle of a television series. 

Thompson plays Fiona Maye, a High Court judge in England, whose marriage to Jack (Stanley Tucci), her husband of 20 years, is falling apart at the same time she's taking on a hefty case at work. 

Jack is plainspoken about his displeasure with the state of their marriage. They haven't slept together in 11 months, and long ago they started acting more like siblings than a couple. "I'm going to have an affair," he tells her, the words hitting like a chop to the throat. 

At the same time, Fiona is dealing with a case involving Adam ("Dunkirk's" Fionn Whitehead), a 17-year-old Jehovah's Witness whose religious beliefs won't allow him to accept a blood transfusion he needs to survive.

Fiona visits him in the hospital, making a connection that resonates with the young Adam. She rules he should receive the transfusion, giving him a new chance at living, which he comes to terms with and for which he intends to pay her back. 

"The Children Act" is based on Ian McEwan's 2014 novel and is directed by Richard Eyre ("Iris," "Notes on a Scandal"), who brings a sturdy hand to the proceedings. 

If anything, the material presented is too rich for a just a feature; Thompson is so good that you want to see her dive deeper into the role. The behind-the-scenes material at the court and the way she toggles between her personal and professional lives at a moment's notice is fascinating, as is the dynamic between her and Tucci, which feels squeezed out at the edges due to the constraints of the running time.

"The Children Act" leaves you not only wanting more, but ready to binge it.


'The Children Act'


Rated R for a sexual reference

Running time: 105 minutes