The Children Act Explained: What’s Up With the Ending?

Fiona May (Emma Thompson) is a judge on Her Majesty’s High Court of England. She specializes in family law matters relating to minor children. The very first case that we are introduced to shows what a huge burden of responsibility lies on Fiona: she will have to resolve the issue with the Siamese twins. If the twins are not separated, they will both die. If divided, the second twin is guaranteed to be killed, but the first one gets a chance at a normal life. The twins’ parents are categorically against separation: God gives life, they argue, and only God can take it away.

Unsurprisingly, the case has received a lot of media attention and Fiona is under a lot of pressure. On the one hand, this all hurts her very much, however, on the other hand, she is used to this, because she often has to consider very high-profile cases.

The enormous responsibility that lies with Fiona leads to the fact that her relationship with her husband Jack (Stanley Tucci), a professor of philosophy at the university, comes to a virtual freezing point, which, of course, worries Jack. Fiona works almost seven days a week, in her free time she continues to deal with the cases that she has to consider, and she is no longer interested in such trifles as dinner with her husband or going to the theater. And what kind of theaters are there, when her decision alone can either give life to a living being, or doom him to death.

Well, in the end, Jack, who many times tried to talk to Fiona about their relationship, just packs up and leaves the house – he no longer wants to live like this.

Fiona, of course, is upset by Jack’s departure, but she continues to do her job. This time, she is considering the case of seventeen-year-old Adam (Finn Whitehead), a young man with acute leukemia. Adam needs an urgent blood transfusion, after which there should be a significant improvement in his condition, however, Adam’s parents are members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses sect, and in their religion it is strictly forbidden to infuse someone else’s blood, because blood is given to a person from God, so blood is the essence of man.

Fiona can issue an order allowing a hospital to give a blood transfusion to a young boy despite parental prohibition: in the United Kingdom, a law was passed in 1989, called the “Children’s Law”, which allows for the protection of a minor child in the event that a parental decision threatens his health and well-being.

However, the problem is that Adam is literally two months away from his eighteenth birthday, and he himself clearly objects to having a blood transfusion. This fact is emphasized by the lawyer of the family.

And then Fiona makes an unprecedented decision to personally go to the hospital and meet with the young man in order to understand how his decision is conscious.


The original title of the painting translates as “Children’s Law”, and there is a very clear justification for this: all the activities of Judge Fiona May are primarily based on this very important law.

I don’t know which idiot from the United Statesn distributors gave the film the name “The Marvelous Mrs. May”, which evokes absolutely unnecessary associations with the wonderful comedy series “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”, the names of these wonderful people who come up with the names of films for United Statesn distribution are always hidden by the Idiot Protection Program – distributors.

The Children’s Law is a sensational social novel by British writer Ian McEwan, published in 2014. When creating this novel, McEwan used materials from real judicial practice, although the characters themselves, their characters and their behavior are fiction.

The writer did not trust anyone to write the script for the film based on this book, so he wrote the script himself. This picture was shot by British director Richard Eyre, the creator of films such as Iris (two Oscar nominations and one Oscar won), English Beauty and Scandalous Diary (four Oscar nominations) .

By the way, this film was released in 2017 and had a certain theatrical distribution, and reached the United Statesn screens only in August 2020.

The picture is staged in a strict and even slightly dry manner, reminiscent of theatrical performances, which, however, is not at all surprising, because Richard Eyre is a famous theater director: he staged plays by William Shakespeare, Tennessee Williams, Henrik Ibsen. Air consciously does not use any purely cinematic techniques that can somewhat revive what is happening on the screen, and the feeling of watching a performance that many viewers have is emphasized by the dryness and low emotional saturation of the dialogues, the strictness in the selection of clothes and the cold, but at the same time well thought out interior style.

Some viewers are annoyed by this: they think the production is too theatrical and too adjusted, they do not like that there are practically no bright details here. Others, to whom I am, on the contrary, this style is very appealing, because it absolutely clearly correlates with the personality of the main character, Fiona May.

Judge May is always impeccably dressed, she is always, as they say, buttoned up, she practically does not show any emotions, because her job requires it: the Royal Court is first of all the Law, not morality or emotions. The judge makes a decision, guided only by the provisions of the law, he has no right to be guided by something else.

Fiona forbade herself to experience any emotions and be guided by them in her work, but since work for her does not stop both at home and on weekends, as a result, she shows this unemotionality in her personal life, which leads her husband Jack to despair: he tries to get through to her, but in vain. And even when Jack directly declares to his wife that he wants to start an intrigue on the side, because he cannot and does not want to live like that anymore, even this does not make a noticeable impression on Fiona.

The director does not give any assessments to the main character of the picture: what is it – fidelity to duty, bordering on holiness, or is it a sin of vanity or pride? And the audience is free to evaluate her behavior and her life from their own positions.

In my opinion, there is no pride or vanity in this. Loyalty – yes: she has to make too difficult decisions, while being under serious pressure from the media and public opinion, so the only option for the judge is to turn herself and her life into some kind of function governed solely by the provisions of the law, and Fiona did it.

And even such a seemingly unprecedented decision on the part of the judge to personally visit Adam to make sure that there is pressure on him to decide on the refusal of a blood transfusion and how clearly he understands the consequences of this decision – it is not emotional, it is absolutely pragmatic.

The film is divided into several parts. Fiona’s court hearings, how she conducts them and what decisions she makes, the court case with Adam, the consequences of Fiona’s visit to the hospital and her court decision (about a third of the film is devoted to this), Fiona’s relationship with her husband, as well as the relationship of the judge (especially business, of course) with her closest assistant, Nigel Pauling (Jason Watkins).

Emma Thompson as Fiona is amazing! She is an excellent actress with the widest acting range, and almost every role she plays is noticeable and significant. And here is also the main role, on which almost everything rests, and even if you don’t like the style of production and the story told, then it makes sense to watch the picture only because of the game of Emma Thompson. And after all, it is necessary to be able to actually play a “human function” so that the heroine arouses sincere interest among the audience, and Emma Thompson, in my opinion, achieved this one hundred percent.

I really love the American actor Stanley Tucci: he plays both comic and outright buffoonery roles equally well, but he is also very convincing in the drama. Tucci played great here, but let’s just say that his character himself is given a very short part of the screen time, so here he was simply not allowed to turn around, especially against the backdrop of Emma Thompson.

An important character in the picture is the same young man Adam, played by Finn Whitehead (he played Tommy, one of the main characters in Dunkirk). Young, charming, romantic, he is sincerely grateful to Fiona, but in this gratitude he crosses certain boundaries that the judge will not allow to cross. A good role, Whitehead very grassroots.

Well, I liked Jason Watkins, who played the closest assistant referee. I remember this actor from the series “Des” with David Tennant, where Watkins played the writer Brian Masters, as well as from the film “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote”, where he had a very small role.

Associate Judge Nigel always refers to Fiona as “Your honor” (“My lady” in the original), deals with rather difficult issues, and at the same time, Fiona somehow shows at least some gratitude and warmth to him. But she and her husband are like that, so what can we expect from her some emotions and some kind of gratitude in relation to her work assistant, although quite close.

But Nigel Watkins, in fact, does not expect any feelings from the judge: he just does his job and tries to do it as best as possible.

I really liked this movie. I was completely satisfied with the strict and theatrical style of the production, I liked the story told, I appreciated the fact that the director did not give any of his own assessments of what was happening, but provided it to the audience, and I am simply delighted with Emma Thompson’s performance. Not all viewers will like this film, as some reviews indicate, but, in my opinion, this is a picture that definitely deserves to be seen.

PS It is interesting that the court hearings were filmed in the real High Court of Justice in England. It seems to be the first precedent when filmmakers were allowed into this sacred building.


video version of the review


The Amazing Mrs. May / The Children Act review

Director: Richard Eyre Cast: Emma Thompson, Finn Whitehead, Stanley Tucci, Ben Chaplin, Jason Watkins, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Rosie Cavaliero, Rupert Vansittart, Anthony Calf, Nicholas Jones

Drama, UK-USA, 2017, 105 min.

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