Film Review (1st take): ORANGES AND SUNSHINE (2011)

3 Jun

By Chris Harrigan from ChirspandAllen

I’m not sure who thought up the scheme at the centre of Oranges & Sunshine but they must have been one of those rare Cruella de Vil-esque evil geniuses.

Britain’s welfare system was busting at the seams; meanwhile its colony on the other side of the world was desperate for white immigrants. A lesser villain wouldn’t have a drawn a link between the two problems, but the British Empire was no lesser villain. In a two-for-one special they decided to shift tens of thousands of kids under the care of the state off to Australia, where they enjoyed all the fruits of a regular childhood such as building churches, working farms, and fending off sexual assault. As an added corker, many of them were told (falsely) that their parents were dead. (You just got punk’d, kids!).

It is this miscarriage of justice – made all the worse by the denial by both British and Australian governments that it ever occurred – that Oranges & Sunshine sets out to tell. Or at least purports to. In actuality the film centres foremost on Margaret Humphreys (Emily Watson), the social worker whose tireless efforts to uncover the truth reunited thousands of ‘lost children’ with their parents and siblings back in Britain, and brought about an official apology in 2009.

But while Orange’s intentions are good, in focusing so exclusively on Humphreys something of the enormity of the story seems lost. Hugo Weaving is terrific as a recovering lost child searching for his family, and this is where the heart of film should lie. But it’s Humphreys who gets the spotlight, and to the film’s detriment. Her story almost feels like the sub-plot to another film whose main arc has been accidently left on the cutting room floor.

Oranges scatters moments of catharsis amongst the otherwise banal scenes of Humphreys’ bureaucratic work, but the effect is uneven, and many character’s epiphanies are too easily drawn, too lacking in context and delivery; their stories almost told in shorthand. And it’s a shame, because it’s their stories that are not only so compelling, but which need to be told.

Thanks to Nic Scott and the rest of Chirsp’s friends for their eagle eyed editing of this piece. You know who you are.

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