Ian McEwan turns life-changing legal case into Emma Thompson drama “The Children Act”

Who has the right to decide life: God, the individual or the state? Screenwriter and author Ian McEwan’s latest film “The Children Act,” in theaters September 14, explores this deeply personal and political question through the perspective of a judge, played by Emma Thompson, deciding the case of a 17-year-old Jehovah's Witness with leukemia whose family is fighting for his right to refuse treatment.

On “Salon Talks,” McEwan opened up about why the timeless concept inspired “The Children Act” novel, published in 2014, and the accompanying screenplay. McEwan, an atheist, supports Dignity in Dying, an organization that backs the legal right to die for the terminally ill, but understands the opposite side.

“People argue quite persuasively that only God gives life and only God can take it away, and how dare you rise to this state of declaring yourself able to allow people to do it for themselves,” he said.

As a storyteller, McEwan says he’s built his entire 40-year literary career around “human issues” surrounding love, sex, religion, law and death because they’re timeless across eras.

“One of the reasons we love our literature and movies and why we love movies of 50 years ago, is basically that the human issues don't change. Is my wife, is my husband honest? Do I trust this person, don't I trust this person? That field remains the same,” McEwan said. “That's why we can read Homeric fables, of Odysseus returning to Penelope, and when she doesn't recognize him, he's been away 20 years, and they have a little marital spat.”

Check out the video above to hear McEwan talk about how technology affects timeless human questions around life and death and watch the full episode to hear why Thompson was McEwan’s first choice to play the lead role of the judge in “The Children Act.”

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