Ian McEwan adapted his own novel with The Children Act, about a judge (Emma Thompson) who must decide whether or not a teenage boy should be allowed to refuse medical treatment due to his religious beliefs. This is one of the hardest cases Fiona Maye has ever had to rule on, as the life of Adam Henry (Fionn Whitehead) — whose family upbringing as a Jehovah’s Witness means he refuses a blood transfer infusion to cure a likely fatal infection — is entirely in her hands, dependent on her ruling.
The convictions of Adam Henry’s lower-class religious family are expressed with the typical ineloquent, passionate fervour expected of such a case, and Fiona’s non-partisan, rational deliberation is depicted as a mark of her character; her cold, analytical mindset might be a boon for her career, but it’s a detriment for her marriage.
When husband Jack (Stanley Tucci), frustrated with the flagrant disregard she shows him and their relationship, announces he wants an affair for their marriage to survive, Fiona briskly kicks him out of the house. It’s the kind of coolly principled action one might expect a high-ranking authority of the law to enforce in her personal life, but Fiona’s swift kick of Jack’s suitcase as she throws him out reveals there is, indeed, an emotional depth well disguised underneath her otherwise calm and collected self.
Her emotional side emerges again at the hospital where she meets Adam Henry, as the two bond over a shared interest in William Butler Yeats and music. Fiona quietly concludes right then and there, and announces the following day in court, that it would be unfair to take any action that would prevent a young person from living, simply because of the unsophisticated indoctrination forced on Adam Henry by his parents.
Richard Wershe, Jr. deserved better than White Boy RickA Simple Favour is an undefinable, genre-bending pleasure featuring a beguiling Blake Lively
Another film might have centred itself around this central moral dilemma as an ongoing issue that requires far more time or consideration before a conclusion is met. Here, it’s used as a catalyst for a burgeoning relationship, one that defines a good half of the film, and, without spoiling anything, sinks into some interesting, heady quandaries. This prompts questions about what is an appropriate age difference in romance, how far gestures of unrequited love can reach before they infringe upon the rights of others, and the personal sacrifices made by women when pursuing demanding, male-dominated professions that bring with them a certain degree of analytical prestige and honour.
These questions are all interesting, certainly, and the inclusion of Fiona’s overtly stuffy, ceremonious assistant Nigel (Jason Watkins) offer a levity to a film that desperately needs it. But Thompson’s eventual epiphanies about the effects of her decision on Adam Henry are painted in primary colours here. The Children Act doesn’t delve as deeply into the thorny ethics of religious rights quite as richly as it could have.