Fresh from the Toronto Film Festival premiere of On Chesil Beach, novelist Ian McEwan returned to Deadline’s Toronto Studio with another adaptation of his own work. Directed by Richard Eyre, The Children Act is a legal drama with a human heart, starring Emma Thompson as Fiona Maye, a High Court judge tasked with ruling on decisions that affect the safety and well-being of minors. Her dedication to her work, however, puts extra pressure on her already strained marriage to Jack (Stanley Tucci, reteamed with Thompson for the first time since the 1991 animated version of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast). But when she finds herself becoming an emotional beacon for a young man whose case she is dealing with (Dunkirk’s Fionn Whitehead), Fiona finds herself stretched to a breaking point (“It’s not a stalker film,” said producer Duncan Kenworthy, “but there is an element of that”).
When the filmmaking team came by Deadline’s studio, McEwan recalled that the inspiration for the original novel came from having dinner one evening with a tableful of judges. “I was handed a book of judgments,” he said. “Which sounds very biblical! I started reading it, and I realized that this was a fantastic resource of exquisite and sometimes terrible human dramas and dilemmas that the secular state has to resolve.” Director Richard Eyre said that casting the film was surprisingly easy. “Casting is always a lottery,” he laughed, “but in this case there was either Emma or the film didn’t get made.” To research the role, Thompson consulted real-life female High Court judges, whom she declared to be her new heroines on account of “the level of the workload, and the life and death situations they have to deal with”. “It’s a killer job,” she decided.
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