Review: Oranges & Sunshine


Directed by: Jim Loach
Written by:Rona Munro
Starring: Emily Watson, Hugo Weaving, David Wenham, Tara Morice, Lorraine Ashbourne, Geoff Morrell
Released: June 9, 2011
Grade: A-

Between the 1920s and the 1960s, more than 130,000 children were forcibly taken from their families in the United Kingdom and shipped to other Commonwealth countries such as Australia, New Zealand and Canada under the Child Migrant Program.  They were supposed to be provided a better life but it was often not the case.  Some children were abused and others were told lies about their families back home.

Given the scale of the issue, it’s hard to believe it was kept a secret for so long.  It wasn’t until 1986 that a social worker named Margaret Humphreys exposed the cover-up and brought it to the public’s attention.  It would prompt a wide scale investigation and resulted in formal apologies being made by Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in 2009 and UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown in 2010.

Oranges & Sunshine brings this story and that of Margaret Humphreys to the big screen.  I admit that I was reluctant to see this film at first.  I already knew a little about the story and I wasn’t sure if I could sit through something with such a gloomy, painful subject matter (despite the bright title).

Luckily, I was wrong.  This is a terrific film that brought a tear to the eye of many at my preview screening.  Yes, I’d read about this story beforehand but it wasn’t until I saw the movie that the emotions kicked in.  Director Jim Loach has done a beautiful job capturing the heart and soul of these characters.  You will feel sorry for the families affected and be sickened at the government’s involvement.

We all know she’s a great actress but Emily Watson (Breaking The Waves, Hilary & Jackie) again confirms her talent as Margaret Humphreys.  She doesn’t overplay the role and portrays Margaret as an ordinary woman who can’t let this issue go.  She’s not out to expose the government and shame those involved.  Rather, her focus is on reuniting these relocated people with their original families.  I’m describing her as a subtler version of Erin Brockovich.

To highlight the tragedy of the situation, screenwriter Rona Munro has chosen to focus on two people in particular.  The first is Jack (Weaving), a troubled man who has always wondered about his past.  He knew he was shipped to Australia as a youngster but has no idea what became of his mother, father and sister back in the UK.  The second is Len (Wenham), an angry man also in search of answers.  He too was sent to Australia and was raised on a remote property run by the Christian Brothers.

It’s relatively quiet in terms of new releases in Australian cinemas at the moment and so you should have plenty of time to catch Oranges & Sunshine.  I can think of no valid excuses.