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Maternal love, unrequited

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MY LADY, my saviour: Adam Henry (Fionn Whitehead) meets Judge Fiona Maye (Emma Thompson). Photograph courtesy Bollywood24x7

SOMETIMES IT IS not the story of a film that grabs you by the scruff of your neck and doesn’t let go. It’s something else. It’s a thing that takes the collaborative energies that make an entity as complex as a film come together, and opens a rich vein of creative ether of them for you to imbibe. This is what you will experience in Richard Eyre’s film The Children Act.

Overlooking the story which is almost told in entirety in the trailer, there are two main elements to the magnificence of this work that are sheer gold. Firstly, it is the performance of Emma Thompson.

Here we see her as Fiona Maye, a justice of the courts who has a full plate of complicated public duties, a husband who seemingly only wants to get his leg over, and an evolved, yet childless, relationship with life, music and responsibilities. As a performer, Thompson takes possession of this role with a shimmering frankness. The camera loves her, but not in a foolish or plasticky sense. Here’s a mature woman at the helm of her career and she’s vulnerable, like you or I, to wrong choices. Here’s a person at the height of her powers, yet she’s consumed with self-doubt and disappointment. She is simply riveting.

The second element to this film is the cement that holds everything together with the kind of finesse that will take your breath away. It’s simple: the transitions. There is deep and intelligent thought present in the shifting from one scene to another; leaving nothing to chance. Because of this, the film flows with a smoothness between contexts, as an absolutely perfect conduit for a detailed and sophisticated yarn.

And while the beauty and potency of Fionn Whitehead in the role of the teenaged boy, Adam Henry, whose plight is central to the story’s crux, is of great merit, it’s a side dish. This story about love sought and refused keeps Thompson in its focus every second of the way.

It’s about a vulnerable, fiercely talented young person who is born to parents who don’t know what they have and are incapable of giving him what he needs. By dint of illness and religious superstition, the universe brings this woman, this judge into the child’s life. She takes the decisions she must, but she leaves a residue of the miraculous in the child’s self image. But it’s parental love unrequited and the only solution is a grim and sad death.

Unlike On Chesil Beach, which was also penned by Ian McEwan, this film offers a resonance of the texture of his writing. It’s a compelling, beautiful piece, marred only slightly by an impossibly constructed marriage for the judge: her husband (Stanley Tucci) seems incapable of empathy, and when you look at the two of them together, it’s hard to believe they ever loved one another. It’s a detail, but not one that will worry you, as the full impact and complicated tragedy of Thompson’s My Lady comes to the fore.

  • The Children Act is directed by Richard Eyre and features a cast headed by Nikki Amuka-Bird, Michele Austin, Micah Balfour, Toni Beard, Anthony Calf, Dominic Carter, Rosie Cavaliero, Ben Chaplin, Karl Farrer, Andrew Havill, Honey Holmes, Paul Jesson, Nicholas Jones, Hiten Patel, Dywayne Thomas, Emma Thompson, Stanley Tucci, Rupert Vansittart, Eileen Walsh, Jason Watkins and Fionn Whitehead. It is written by Ian McEwan, based on his eponymous novel. Produced by Duncan Kenworthy, it features creative input by Stephen Warbeck (music), Andrew Dunn (cinematography), Dan Farrell (editing), Nina Gold (casting), Peter Francis (production design) and Fotini Dimou (costumes). Release date in South Africa, through Cinema Nouveau, Ster Kinekor: September 21 2018.
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