Film review (2nd take): ORANGES AND SUNSHINE (2010)

4 Jun

by Anna Sutton

Oranges and Sunshines  is an understated and intimate film about the tragic legacy of the “forgotten Australians”, child migrants who were the product of a forced resettlement scheme conducted by the British welfare state until 1973. The scheme, in which children were removed from state care and shipped off to Commonwealth countries, was Britain’s answer to a post-WWII welfare state, at a time when the White Australia Policy still blighted this country.

Director Jim Loach (son of Ken) tackles the issue with the compassion and complexity that it requires.

We meet Margaret Humphreys (played with great humanity by Emily Watson), a Nottingham social worker who in the 1980s blew the whistle on a saga that the Australian and British governments had conspired to veil for decades. Inspired by one of her clients, Humphreys embarks on a 2-year investigation that results in her attempts to reunite hundreds of adults with their estranged families, and the establishment of the Child Migrants Trust.

The film’s first half is like a detective movie, investigative in tone and creating the sense that justice will be sought. Before any questions are answered, we find ourselves immersed in the personal lives of a group of grown-up migrants who suffered harrowing abuse in ‘charitable’ institutions on Australian shores.

This film is not about how or why Britain enforced the child resettlement program, nor does it dwell in flashback territory. Instead it focuses on the fragility with which the adult survivors cling to their family histories. Through Margaret’s selfless attempts to reunite hundreds of family members across two continents, we meet the scared and lost children still hiding within.

The writing is top notch (the screenplay was adapted from Humphreys’ book Empty Cradles), eliciting the pain of severed identity and creating a well-rounded character out of Humphreys.

This character-driven film features wonderful supporting performances and nuanced detail that captures the sun-saturated look of 1980s Australia (even extending to the use of film stock) as well as the gloomy monochromatic landscape of Industrial England.

Hugo Weaving gives a powerful performance as the damaged Jack, whose mother died just before Humphreys tracked her down. And David Wenham is perfectly cast as Len, a man whose exuberant exterior sprouts from a painful place.

In one of the film’s most memorable scenes, Len takes Margaret back to Bindoon, the notorious Christian Brothers school where abuse towards children was systemic. The harsh desert landscape’s symbolism is steeped in the sense of abandonment that permeates the film. There’s a burdened silence that hangs in the air when he and Margaret encounter the brothers, conveying that which Len is unable to express in words.

It is difficult to talk about this film without getting embroiled in the situation on which it is based, rather than focusing on the film. The grim truth is that thousands of defenseless children in 1950s Australia were treated worse than indentured servants.  While Oranges and Sunshine is a compelling portrayal of the human cost of this chapter of bureaucratic darkness, too many questions hovered over the film’s end for me to be entirely satisfied.

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One Response to “Film review (2nd take): ORANGES AND SUNSHINE (2010)”

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  1. New Oranges And Sunshine Videos | Today's Top News - October 29, 2011

    […] = 'none'; document.getElementById('singlemouse').style.display = ''; } Film review (2nd take): ORANGES AND SUNSHINE (2010) […]

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