Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB. United Kingdom, 2017. Toledo Productions, BBC Films, FilmNation Entertainment. Screenplay by Ian McEwan, based on his novel. Cinematography by Andrew Dunn. Produced by Duncan Kenworthy. Music by Stephen Warbeck. Production Design by Peter Francis. Costume Design by Tessa Phillips. Film Editing by Dan Farrell. Toronto International Film Festival 2017.
Emma Thompson plays a judge whose cases mostly involve minors and who frequently has to apply the law to cases that are sensitive (the film opens with her debating the choice of separating conjoined twins). On the day that her husband (Stanley Tucci) informs her that he wants to have an affair with another woman to offset the distance that her job has put between them, she gets an explosive case that becomes a lengthy ordeal for her: a teenager dying of leukemia who is not yet eighteen (Fionn Whitehead) is refusing a blood transfusion because his beliefs as a Jehovah’s Witness prohibit his accepting the treatment, and his overseeing physician wants the court to intervene and force him to accept. Thompson hears arguments from the medical experts as well as the boy’s parents before deciding that she must go see him personally, opening her life up to complications that, despite the superb work being done by the luminous star of this adaptation of Ian McEwan’s novel, are never all that explosive thanks to director Richard Eyre’s devotion to cold primness. Thompson’s interactions with Whitehead are fascinating until they hit a familiar trope in McEwan’s stories, the regular person who must grapple with having an oddball obsessed with them. Turning intelligent conversations about an issue into a personal conflict between two characters, one relatable and the other one not, feels as if the author is grasping at a way out of the story (Enduring Love also featured this disingenuous bait and switch). That said, the relationship between judge and youth still sails well above Thompson’s scenes with Tucci, which are written and directed and, in Tucci’s case, performed like bad community theatre. As a vehicle for Thompson, the film is the juiciest showcase for her talents since Saving Mr. Banks, particularly as she spends a good deal of screen time listening to others speak and, being the lively and intelligent performer she is, she does so with her usual exceptional charisma. A third act that even Graham Greene would balk at reaches histrionic levels of dramatic manipulation, but it’s a respectable film that will work for those who need things to tie up neatly.