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The Children Act (12A)

John Woods watches a gripping tale of moral choices and tough questions ...

The Children Act
BBC Film 2018
Timing: 1 hour 45 minutes
Category: 12A
Director: Richard Eyre
Starring Emma Thompson, Stanley Tucci, Fionn Whitehead

Based on the best-selling book of the same title by Ian McEwan, who also adapted it for cinema,   Emma Thompson stars as a High Court Judge, who is in a childless marriage that appears to be heading for the buffers. 

The judge specialises in complex cases in the Family Court. Thompson’s character is so consumed by her cases, that this leads to strains on her relationship with her husband, and her general sense of wellbeing.

Life changes when she presides over the case of Adam, a 17-year-old boy with leukaemia whose parents are refusing a blood transfusion because they are Jehovah’s Witnesses. It is interesting to see how the film treats the JW faith of Adam’s parents, while raising the question of whether faith should determine medical choices.

Initially Adam shares the convictions of his parents but this is challenged by his encounter with the judge, in what turn out to be an unconventional visit to his hospital bed. The judge unintentionally becomes emotionally involved with Adam which unlocks something within her. In the words of Bob Dylan: “Something there is about you strikes a match in me.” I don’t want to be a plot spoiler, so that is as much of the story as I will reveal.

If you like a film which tells a good story well, you will enjoy this film. Ian McEwan always tells a good story, and does so with a rich palette of intricate relationships, complex plot twists, and a willingness to wrestle with tough contemporary questions. Christians probably ought to be at the forefront of discussing the questions that the film raises; the truth is that we are often a Johnny-come-lately.

What is the basis for moral choice? What is the basis of true faith? Is God just another “rabbit’s foot?”, as Adam suggests. What is the role of faith communities in shaping the consciences of its adherents? When we seek to do the right thing, do we face up to the painfully searing dilemmas that humans face every day?

It is worth watching this profoundly moving film from another angle – how might I respond if I were in a similar situation?

John Woods is pastor of Lancing Tabernacle in West Sussex

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