‘The Children Act’ Film Review: Emma Thompson Grapples with Conscience in Sluggish Legal Drama

Read on: TheWrapTheWrap.

If Emma Thompson can’t make “The Children Act,” a drama about a family-court judge conflicted over her own decisions and the precarious state of her own family, into something interesting and meaningful, then no one can. And she can’t.

Screenwriter Ian McEwan, adapting his own novel, and director Richard Eyre (“Notes on a Scandal”) have assembled a fine cast to tackle controversial subjects brimming over with dramatic possibility, but the results are stultifyingly subdued. It’s all so polite, so sober, so convinced of its own importance, that it never has a pulse. This is love and life and death discussed as though they were paint swatches for the guest room.

Thompson stars as Fiona Maye, a high-court judge who specializes in hot-button issues that often put her in the crosshairs of religious fundamentalists. (The “Act” of the title is a noun and not a verb.) As the film opens, we see her giving the Solomonic ruling to separate a pair of conjoined twins, over the objection of the parents, as she argues that the possibility of one of the newborns living supersedes both of them definitely dying.

Watch Video: Emma Thompson Says Trump Once Asked Her Out: ‘I Didn’t Know What to Do’

Her next big case involves Jehovah’s Witnesses who want to keep their almost-18-year-old son from receiving blood transfusion treatments for his leukemia; before handing down a decision, Fiona takes the near-unprecedented step of meeting the young man herself to get a read on his devotion to his church’s teachings. Adam (Fionn Whitehead, “Dunkirk”) strikes her as lively and intelligent and capable of thinking independently from his parents — although he too wants to refuse the treatment — and the two of them sing a song together before she returns to court and rules that he must receive the transfusions.

As a healthy Adam grows estranged from his parents and his faith, he begins stalking Fiona — in a friendly way, but it’s still a little disconcerting to her how he keeps turning up, even when she goes off to Newcastle for a business trip. While Fiona’s various work dramas are unfurling, her husband Jack (Stanley Tucci) registers his dissatisfaction with the marriage. He asks permission to have a mistress, but takes one anyway after Fiona says no — and kicks him out of the apartment.

Also Read: ‘Madeline’s Madeline’ Film Review: Experimental Psychodrama Dives Deep, Surfaces With a New Star

Is this going to be yet another movie where an accomplished, intelligent woman has to bear blame for not having children? You bet it is, down to a scene where Jack reads bedtime stories to visiting nieces, a moment designed to show us how great he is with kids (and thus implying how terrible Fiona is to deprive him of them).

There are big ideas swirling around “The Children Act” about love and fidelity and spirituality and guilt and responsibility, but McEwan and Eyre have each of them either land with a thud or dissipate into the mist. We’re left with Thompson looking glum and unsatisfied, while Tucci tut-tuts and Whitehead has explosions of exuberance that get creepier as the film progresses.

Also Read: Emma Thompson Says Hollywood Sexism ‘Is Worse Than It Was Even When I Was Young’

“The Children Act” is the very model of a handsome production, with Fiona and Jack’s London digs tastefully assembled by Peter Francis and shot with Architectural Digest specificity by Andrew Dunn (“Bridget Jones’s Baby”). The peeks behind the scenes at British courtrooms provide some of the film’s most compelling moments, as Fiona’s treatment of her long-suffering assistant provides one of the film’s few emotional barometers for its lead character until her big Act III moments.

A film this steeped in respectability really wants you to take it seriously (and to consider it during awards season), but its many fine pieces never add up the way they should.

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‘On Chesil Beach’ Film Review: Saoirse Ronan Drama Only Starts Out Like a Sex Comedy

Read on: TheWrapTheWrap.

For about an hour, “On Chesil Beach” seems like the most genteel sex comedy ever made. A movie that hems and haws and tries to avoid getting to the wedding-night bed, it starts out an a charming, intimate story of a young couple from the early 1960s whose naïveté and inexperience leads to a string of minor calamities as they approach the moment when two nervous kids will lose their virginity.

And then, in a sharp, shocking moment, “On Chesil Beach” becomes something darker, tougher and more tragic, and yanks it well out of the sex-comedy arena into an uncertain new place.

It’s not always a smooth landing, but director Dominic Cooke, novelist/screenwriter Ian McEwan and stars Saoirse Ronan and Billy Howle make it a touching, bittersweet one.

Also Read: ‘Borg/McEnroe’ Toronto Review: Shia LaBeouf Tennis Movie Mixes Backhands With Psychoanalysis

Adapted from his own work by acclaimed British novelist McEwan (who was also represented at last year’s Toronto Film Festival with “The Children Act”), the film stars Ronan as a young violinist from Oxford and Howle as a more rough-hewn history student from London. It takes place in the moment in the ’60s before they became The Sixties, the same period of repression mixed with tantalizing promise that was the setting for “An Education” eight years ago.

For Florence and Edward (Ronan and Howle), the moments of promise are represented in small touches like a Chuck Berry song on the radio as they sit nervously in their honeymoon hotel room at the English seaside. They kiss, they stall, they fumble with zippers and then stall some more — and the movie is complicit in their delaying tactics, slipping into one flashback after another as if it also is none too anxious to get to the big moment.

As always, Ronan is completely winning, and Howle makes a good contrast — he’s a little more wordy, perhaps, but we know it’s mostly bluster.

Also Read: Saoirse Ronan Rages Against Suburban Machine in Greta Gerwig’s ‘Lady Bird’ Trailer (Video)

When the moment of truth arrives for the young couple, though, the gentle laughs end. Florence bolts out of the honeymoon bed, we get flashes of a buried secret, and nothing is the same. It’s not for the couple and it’s not for the audience, as “On Chesil Beach” stops being a chronicle of ways to delay sex and turns into a chronicle of how not to recover from a bad moment.

The last third of the film, said McEwan in a post-screening Q&A in Toronto last September, differs dramatically from his original novel, using flash-forwards and tender glances to covey things that were depicted internally in the book.

First, the film jumps ahead to 1975 to a lovely record-store encounter that only involves one of the main characters. And then it jumps again to 2007 for an ending that manages to be affecting even if it’s been telegraphed for at least an hour, and hurt by old-age makeup that’s far more effective on Ronan than on Howle.

Director Cooke, to his credit, has a soft touch with McEwan, whose incisive work should have produced more top-notch movies by now. (“Atonement” was the best known, “The Comfort of Strangers” the darkest.) This is a story that begins in nervous bliss and ends in deep regret, and he makes it an uneven but moving journey.

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Saoirse Ronan Is a Confused Newlywed in the First Trailer for ‘On Chesil Beach’ (Video)

Read on: TheWrapTheWrap.

Oscar-nominated actress Saoirse Ronan stars as a newlywed who battles societal pressures and sex in the first trailer for Bleecker Street’s “On Chesil Beach.”

“On Chesil Beach” follows a young couple in England in 1962, who find their new marriage complicated with issues of sexual freedom and pressures from society — and as a result, their wedding night is beyond awkward.

Billy Howie, Emily Watson, Samuel West and Anne-Marie Duff also star.

Also Read: How ‘Lady Bird’ Star Saoirse Ronan Grew Up (and Got Off Twitter)

Dominic Cooke directed the film in his motion picture directorial debut. It is based on the 2007 Booker Prize-nominated novella of the same name, written by Ian McEwan, who wrote the screenplay for the film.

The film had its world premiere in the Special Presentations section at the Toronto International Film Festival on Sept. 7, 2017.

See Video: Saoirse Ronan Weighs Oscar Date Pros, Cons: ‘Do They Do the Loser Face With You?’

Ronan is currently nominated for an Academy Award in the Best Actress category for her role in Greta Gerwig’s “Lady Bird.”

“On Chesil Beach” will hit U.S. theaters on May 18.

Watch the trailer above.

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Period Drama ‘On Chesil Beach’ Offers Antidote To “Toxic Nostalgia” In The Age Of Trump and Brexit – Toronto Studio

Read on: Deadline.

British cinema has been well represented at this year’s TIFF, with some 30 UK productions spread across the lineup. At the prestige end of the spectrum we find On Chesil Beach, an adaptation of Ian McEwan‘s novella written by the author himself. McEwan – doing doubly duty at the festival with Richard Eyre’s film The Children Act – claimed that the notion of a film version was far from his mind while he worked on the original story, but noted that the slimmed-down format…

Toronto Film Review: Emma Thompson in ‘The Children Act’

Read on: Variety.

In the arena of law, it’s commonly known — and widely derided — that one can unfairly “win” any debate by using the so-called “Helen Lovejoy defence,” named after the self-righteous wife of the town reverend in “The Simpsons,” whose fallback argument on any issue amounts to the inarguable emotional plea, “Won’t somebody please think of the… Read more »

‘The Children Act’ Review: Emma Thompson Grapples with Conscience in Sluggish Legal Drama

Read on: TheWrapTheWrap.

If Emma Thompson can’t make “The Children Act,” a drama about a family-court judge conflicted over her own decisions and the precarious state of her own family, into something interesting and meaningful, then no one can. And she can’t.

Screenwriter Ian McEwan, adapting his own novel, and director Richard Eyre (“Notes on a Scandal”) have assembled a fine cast to tackle controversial subjects brimming over with dramatic possibility, but the results are stultifyingly subdued. It’s all so polite, so sober, so convinced of its own importance, that it never has a pulse. This is love and life and death discussed as though they were paint swatches for the guest room.

Thompson stars as Fiona Maye, a high-court judge who specializes in hot-button issues that often put her in the crosshairs of religious fundamentalists. (The “Act” of the title is a noun and not a verb.) As the film opens, we see her giving the Solomonic ruling to separate a pair of conjoined twins, over the objection of the parents, as she argues that the possibility of one of the newborns living supersedes both of them definitely dying.

Watch Video: Emma Thompson Says Trump Once Asked Her Out: ‘I Didn’t Know What to Do’

Her next big case involves Jehovah’s Witnesses who want to keep their almost-18-year-old son from receiving blood transfusion treatments for his leukemia; before handing down a decision, Fiona takes the near-unprecedented step of meeting the young man herself to get a read on his devotion to his church’s teachings. Adam (Fionn Whitehead, “Dunkirk”) strikes her as lively and intelligent and capable of thinking independently from his parents — although he too wants to refuse the treatment — and the two of them sing a song together before she returns to court and rules that he must receive the transfusions.

As a healthy Adam grows estranged from his parents and his faith, he begins stalking Fiona — in a friendly way, but it’s still a little disconcerting to her how he keeps turning up, even when she goes off to Newcastle for a business trip. While Fiona’s various work dramas are unfurling, her husband Jack (Stanley Tucci) registers his dissatisfaction with the marriage. He asks permission to have a mistress, but takes one anyway after Fiona says no — and kicks him out of the apartment.

Also Read: Stanley Tucci’s ‘Final Portrait’ Acquired by Sony Pictures Classics

Is this going to be yet another movie where an accomplished, intelligent woman has to bear blame for not having children? You bet it is, down to a scene where Jack reads bedtime stories to visiting nieces, a moment designed to show us how great he is with kids (and thus implying how terrible Fiona is to deprive him of them).

There are big ideas swirling around “The Children Act” about love and fidelity and spirituality and guilt and responsibility, but McEwan and Eyre have each of them either land with a thud or dissipate into the mist. We’re left with Thompson looking glum and unsatisfied, while Tucci tut-tuts and Whitehead has explosions of exuberance that get creepier as the film progresses.

Also Read: Emma Thompson Says Hollywood Sexism ‘Is Worse Than It Was Even When I Was Young’

“The Children Act” is the very model of a handsome production, with Fiona and Jack’s London digs tastefully assembled by Peter Francis and shot with Architectural Digest specificity by Andrew Dunn (“Bridget Jones’s Baby”). The peeks behind the scenes at British courtrooms provide some of the film’s most compelling moments, as Fiona’s treatment of her long-suffering assistant provides one of the film’s few emotional barometers for its lead character until her big Act III moments.

A film this steeped in respectability really wants you to take it seriously (and to consider it during awards season), but its many fine pieces never add up the way they should.

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Toronto Film Review: ‘On Chesil Beach’

Read on: Variety.

What does it look like when stiff upper lips kiss? In the history of cinema, David Lean’s 1945 “Brief Encounter” stands apart — indeed, virtually alone — in elevating two painfully civilized and polite British lovers into an image of the purest romantic ardor. But now “Brief Encounter” has company. “On Chesil Beach,” which premiered… Read more »

‘On Chesil Beach’ Toronto Review: Saoirse Ronan Drama Only Starts Out Like a Sex Comedy

Read on: TheWrapTheWrap.

For about an hour, “On Chesil Beach” seems like the most genteel sex comedy ever made. A movie that hems and haws and tries to avoid getting to the wedding-night bed, it starts out an a charming, intimate story of a young couple from the early 1960s whose naïveté and inexperience leads to a string of minor calamities as they approach the moment when two nervous kids will lose their virginity.

And then, in a sharp, shocking moment, “On Chesil Beach” becomes something darker, tougher and more tragic, and yanks it well out of the sex-comedy arena into an uncertain new place. It’s not always a smooth landing, but director Dominic Cooke, novelist/screenwriter Ian McEwan and stars Saoirse Ronan and Billy Howle make it a touching, bittersweet one.

While “Borg/McEnroe” is the official opening-night film at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival,” “On Chesil Beach” was actually the first film to have a public screening at TIFF, which it did at the Winter Garden Theatre on Thursday afternoon.

Also Read: ‘Borg/McEnroe’ Toronto Review: Shia LaBeouf Tennis Movie Mixes Backhands With Psychoanalysis

Adapted from his own work by acclaimed British novelist McEwan (who’s also represented at the festival by “The Children Act”), the film stars Ronan as a young violinist from Oxford and Howle as a more rough-hewn history student from London. It takes place in the moment in the ’60s before they became The Sixties, the same period of repression mixed with tantalizing promise that was the setting for “An Education” eight years ago.

For Florence and Edward (Ronan and Howle), the moments of promise are represented in small touches like a Chuck Berry song on the radio as they sit nervously in their honeymoon hotel room at the English seaside. They kiss, they stall, they fumble with zippers and then stall some more – and the movie is complicit in their delaying tactics, slipping into one flashback after another as if it also is none too anxious to get to the big moment.

As always, Ronan is completely winning, and Howle makes a good contrast – he’s a little more wordly, perhaps, but we know it’s mostly bluster.

Also Read: Saoirse Ronan Rages Against Suburban Machine in Greta Gerwig’s ‘Lady Bird’ Trailer (Video)

When the moment of truth arrives for the young couple, though, the gentle laughs end. Florence bolts out of the honeymoon bed, we get flashes of a buried secret, and nothing is the same. It’s not for the couple and it’s not for the audience, as “On Chesil Beach” stops being a chronicle of ways to delay sex and turns into a chronicle of how not to recover from a bad moment.

The last third of the film, said McEwan in a post-screening Q&A, differs dramatically from his original novel, using flash-forwards and tender glances to covey things that were depicted internally in the book.

First, the film jumps ahead to 1975 to a lovely record-store encounter that only involves one of the main characters. And then it jumps again to 2007 for an ending that manages to be affecting even if it’s been telegraphed for at least an hour, and hurt by old-age makeup that’s far more effective on Ronan than on Howle.

Director Cooke, to his credit, has a soft touch with McEwan, whose incisive work should have produced more top-notch movies by now. (“Atonement” was the best known, “The Comfort of Strangers” the darkest.) This is a story that begins in nervous bliss and ends in deep regret, and he makes it an uneven but moving journey.

Related stories from TheWrap:

Shia LaBeouf Surprises by Channeling Borg, Not McEnroe, at Toronto Press Conference

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Benedict Cumberbatch Is Perfectly Pensive in ‘The Child In Time’ First Look (Photo)

Read on: TheWrapTheWrap.

“Sherlock” fans needing a Benedict Cumberbatch fix can revel in the first look photo from his upcoming Masterpiece on PBS series “The Child In Time.”

While the sneak peek image simply shows the British actor walking through the woods in England wearing a Barbour jacket and a serious expression, it was enough of a teaser to placate millions of anxious Cumberbitches around the world.

Stephen Butchard’s adaptation of Ian McEwan’s award-winning novel also stars Kelly Macdonald (“Boardwalk Empire,” “Trainspotting”), Stephen Campbell Moore (“The History Boys,” “The Go-Between”) and Saskia Reeves (“Wolf Hall,” “Wallander”).

Also Read: Benedict Cumberbatch to Star in BBC Adaptation of ‘The Child in Time’

Produced by Pinewood Television and SunnyMarch TV for BBC One and co-produced by Masterpiece on PBS, “The Child In Time” follows Stephen Lewis (Cumberbatch), a children’s author, as he struggles to find purpose in his life after his daughter has gone missing.

His wife Julie (Macdonald) has left him and his best friends Charles (Campbell Moore) and Thelma (Reeves) have retired to the countryside, battling demons of their own. With tenderness and insight, the film explores the dark territory of a marriage devastated, the loss of childhood, the fluidity of time, grief, hope and acceptance.

Also Read: Benedict Cumberbatch Set to Star in Showtime Limited Series ‘Melrose’

“A beautiful book, a deeply moving script, and now a cast of first-rate British actors. What a gift,” Masterpiece’s executive producer Rebecca Eaton said in her description of the heart-breaking story.

“I read the novel years ago and it stayed with me – profound, beautiful and very moving,” Cumberbatch said when his casting was announced in February. “Only Ian McEwan could write about loss with such telling honesty. We’re very excited to have Stephen Butchard’s subtle and brilliant adaptation, and in Julian Farino we have an extraordinary director who delivers emotional truth. I’m so proud ‘The Child In Time’ will be the first drama produced by SunnyMarch TV.”

Also Read: Benedict Cumberbatch’s First Look as Thomas Edison in ‘The Current War’ (Photo)

Cumberbatch is also set to return as “Doctor Strange” in Marvel Studios upcoming “Thor: Ragnarok,” which hits theaters in November.

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