Updated: Aug 21, 2019
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / FRAME SHOTS
“THE CHILDREN ACT”
4K Ultra HD, DVD, Digital copy; 2017; R for sexual reference; Streaming via Amazon Prime Video, Google Play, FandangoNOW (4K), iTunes (4K), Vudu, YouTube
Best extra: “Making of” featurette
THIS BRITISH adult drama stars two-time Oscar-winner actress Emma Thompson as a distinguished High Court judge in London. The film received high praise from top critics in the U.K., as well as in the U.S., hitting nearly 80 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. It was tagged an “art house film” stateside, however, so was only exhibited on 73 screens; the box office barely earned a disappointing $600K.
In Europe it fared much better, topping over $14 million, mostly in the U.K., France, and Italy.
For its U.S. home video release, Lionsgate decided to only push the DVD, the 21-year-old video format, bypassing Blu-ray. Surprisingly, it’s getting the same treatment in the U.K. in January, from EOne. But here’s the head-scratcher: You can buy or rent it in 4K Ultra HD with HDR10 and Dolby Vision from Lionsgate at two U.S. streaming sites, while the rest provide the HD version.
This continues Lionsgate’s trend – started earlier this year – to push limited audience films that were critically successful, with an exclusive 4K release on digital streaming (iTunes & FandangoNOW), with the likes of: “First Reformed,” “Chappaquiddick,” “Eighth Grade,” “Juliet, Naked,” “Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot,” “Blindspotting” and the 30th Anniversary of Francis Ford Coppola’s biopic, “Tucker: The Man and His Dream.” The digital versions also include all the extras found on the Blu-ray or DVD.
Other studios have even offered exclusive blockbusters onto 4K streaming: “Smallfoot,” “Blockers,” “All the Money in the World,” “Paddington 2,” Best Picture Oscar winners “The Silence of the Lambs” (1991), “Rocky” (1977), a primer to the theatrical release of “Creed 2” and this holiday season, the classic “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Lesser titles also made the 4K jump: “Book Club,” “Teen Titans Go! To the Movies,” “Alpha,” “Tag” and “Tully.” Even duds got 4K streaming: “Mile 22,” “Slender Man,” “Galveston,” “The Little Stranger” and “Hot Summer Nights.”
To prepare for “The Children Act,” Thompson researched a number of female judges in the U.K. family court system. “The work, the life, the drudgery of it and the reasonability just took my breath away,” she says during the “Making of” featurette. “I was so impressed with these women.”
Four years ago, author Ian McEwan (“Atonement”) called director Richard Eyre, an experienced stage director, and told him he was writing a book based on the “The Children Act,” a 1989 British law stating that children’s welfare shall be the court’s paramount consideration. “They are not simply the possession of their parents,” says McEwan. The author felt Eyre would be perfect to helm the project. McEwan also wrote the screenplay which, he says, took as long to write as the novel.
Judge Fiona Maye (Thompson) is devoted to her work, while her 20-year marriage to Jack, an American professor (Stanley Tucci), has taken a backseat and is obviously deteriorating. “You see her having to step over it and strike right back into the courtroom and work, work, work,” says Thompson. Jack makes his displeasure very clear to Fiona.
Justice Maye delivers decisions in such cases as one regarding a pair of conjoined twins, in which they would both will die if not surgically separated; if they are, only one would survive. Jason Watkins provides a fine performance as Fiona’s court clerk, Nigel Pauling.
The film’s core plot follows the high-stakes case of Adam (an excellent Fionn Whitehead; “Dunkirk”), a 17-year-old leukemia patient, and his parents (Ben Chaplin and Eileen Walsh), who are Jehovah Witnesses. They and Adam are refusing to let the hospital give him a blood transfusion, which is forbidden by their religious beliefs. Without the transfusion, he’ll probably suffer a tortuous death.
Fiona makes an unorthodox visit to Adam at his ICU bedside before rendering her judgment. She discovers a sensitive young man who is a deep thinker, a musician, filled with vitality and promise. The chemistry between Thompson and Whitehead is compelling in this credible story about difficult grown-up issues.
The DVD and streaming version also include a commentary with the director, writer, and producer Duncan Kenworthy.
Eyre and cinematographer Andrew Dunn, who filmed Eyre’s “Tumbledown” (1988) and “Stage Beauty” (2004), captured the courtroom scenes on a set at Pinewood Studios, while exteriors were mostly filmed around London’s legal district. They used two ARRRIRAW 2.8K or 3.4K digital cameras, with the lesser 1.85:1 aspect ratio for a more intimate feel.
The film was more likely mastered in 2K (which we can’t confirm). IMDb doesn't provide the details, but it looks so sharp you would swear it was mastered in 4K, taking advantage of using nearly every line of horizontal resolution with just a sliver of a black bar on top and bottom. Compare that to the majority of movies today, which are captured in the super-widescreen 2.39:1 ratio, with much larger black bars. The clarity is top-notch, from the numerous Steadicam shots, to a nicely-composed wide shot looking down on Adam’s bed, as the nurses start the blood transfusion. You can clearly see the fabric’s texture in the bedspread.
The HDR toning won’t disappoint, with an excellent black level with no loss of detail, and bold highlights while keeping the cold color palette natural along with the facial toning.
The DVD experience is what you would expect on a large screen: Soft and missing over 7 million pixels per frame, as well as millions of colors, while the contrast level is flat.
The dialogue-driven film is simple and quiet, with a piano score by Stephen Warbeck, a counterpoint to Judge Maye’s love for playing the instrument. A number of classical riffs are sprinkled throughout, from Bach to Mozart, as well as Thompson’s singing of the traditional Irish tune “Down By the Salley Gardens,” with words by W.B. Yeats.
― Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer