In the court and marriage drama CHILD WELL-BEING Emma Thompson, in the role of a hardened judge, is in deep crisis when she has to decide the fate of a seriously ill boy. However, the story takes such bizarre turns that it’s not entirely clear whether that’s good or bad. We reveal more about this in our review.
The Plot Summary
Fiona Maye (Emma Thompson) is an experienced family court judge in London. Just at a time when her marriage to Jack (Stanley Tucci) is in deep crisis, she is assigned an urgent case that is a matter of life and death: 17-year-old Adam (Fionn Whitehead) has leukemia As Jehovah’s Witnesses, he and his parents refuse the life-saving blood transfusion. Fiona must decide whether the hospital can treat the minor against his and his parents’ will. The confrontation with the intelligent boy leads Fiona to a decision that will also change her own life.
Movie explanation of the ending
Ian McEwan’s novel, published in this country under the title “Children’s Welfare”, is originally called “The Children Act”. This goes back to a legal regulation in Great Britain, which since 1989 has been about protecting the well-being of a child and putting their medical needs above those of the adults entrusted to them. In case of doubt, this means that a court can ignore what parents or foster parents imagine for their child, as long as it serves their well-being. In the film adaptation by Richard Eyre (“Diary of a Scandal”) it is also about this exact topic; at least in part. Just like in the original book, only the first part of the story deals with exactly such a case, when two strictly believing Jehovah’s Witnesses want to refuse their boy a vital blood transfusion. Everything that happens after that has only marginally to do with the decisive court ruling. In reality, it is not the conflict of conscience per se that the judge, Fiona Maye, who is at the center of it, has to deal with. Above all, the consequences of their decision play a central role in “Child’s Welfare”. And not just for her, but above all for the boy in whose interests she is supposed to make decisions. This will definitely come as a surprise to those who don’t know the material, and since director Eyre deviates significantly from his previously sober and down-to-earth production in the second half, his film also seems like two different ones. This definitely takes some getting used to.
The Mayes’ marriage is about to end.
After working with Cate Blanchett, Judi Dench, and Kate Winslet, Emma Thompson follows (“Saving Mr. Banks”) as the next outstanding character actress to join the list of names with whom Richard Eyre has already worked in his long career. This happened at the director’s own request, who states that the film would not have been made without her participation. This decision turns out to be a stroke of luck in “Child’s Wellbeing” because Thompson does an excellent job of combining the two contradictory sides of her equally fragile side in private and the aloof tough one in court, thereby rounding out her character. Stanley Tucci (“Spotlight”) Disappointed in his marriage but still loving his wife more than anything, Jack is in no way inferior to his colleague. On the contrary: in the few scenes of his appearance he is given the equally complex task of not automatically making his character an asshole. When it turns out that he is having an affair with a student, it is not just a desire to cheat on his wife, who undoubtedly respects his wife, but also despair that their marriage is threatening to break up because of Fiona’s difficult job. This makes him remarkably likeable in a crazy way – and also thanks to Stanley Tucci’s careful acting.
The fact that the Mayes’ marital problems take up quite a lot of space in “Child Welfare” leads you over time to the realization that the film is primarily about explaining that judges are only human too. Every character, regardless of status or clientele, has the opportunity to reveal their innermost being. But that also means that those who expected the drama to be a classic courtroom film will be disappointed, which is quite obvious given the synopsis. Ian McEwan answers the question of whether Fiona should speak out for or against the blood transfusion within a few scenes and director Richard Eyre also sticks to it. Both the public prosecutor and Adam’s parents’ lawyers only exchange brief points of view in order to convince the judge. After visiting Adam in the hospital, her verdict is already made and then all the effects that this verdict brings with it unfold. As a result, “Child Welfare” pushes in an increasingly unpredictable direction as it goes on, even touches on thriller territory and increasingly focuses on the promising relationship between Fiona and Adam, who feels attracted to the resolute judge. Of course, how the whole thing ends cannot be revealed at this point.
Fiona (Emma Thompson) visits Adam (Fionn Whitehead) at his bedside.
When Adam later visits the judge unannounced several times and follows her, Richard Eyre stages in an unpredictable way. Sometimes he ambushes her in a dark underpass in the best stalker style, other times he suddenly kisses her on the mouth and writes her voluptuous poems. Richard Eyre doesn’t reveal what’s going on in the young man’s head until late, thereby always gallantly playing with the audience’s expectations. And by then he had long since put the actual plot surrounding the verdict on file – in the truest sense of the word. This is exciting and unpredictable; a rare distinction that can still be attributed to films today. But even if both parts of “Kinderwohl” are convincing in their own right, Richard Eyre only partially succeeds in bringing them together. Only the subplot surrounding Fiona’s broken marriage runs evenly throughout the entire film. In the first half, Eyre relies on the cool, analytical staging of the case, but as it progresses he becomes more and more emotional and in the finale even more sentimental, which is not good for the film as a whole. It is mainly thanks to the strong actors, including newcomer Fionn Whitehead, known from “Dunkirk”, that “Kinderwohl” does not completely fall apart.
Conclusion: “Child Welfare” begins as a classic courtroom film and as it progresses, the inner life of its protagonist increasingly comes into focus. However, due to the dual production as a sometimes cool court film and sometimes a highly emotional character drama, Richard Eyre’s work falls far short of its potential, although Emma Thompson and Stanley Tucci make every effort to ennoble “Childhood” with brilliant performances.
“Kindeswohl” can be seen in USA cinemas from August 30th.