Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Oranges and Sunshine

This is an outstanding film - whichever way you come at it. The directorial début of Jim Loach - son of Ken is almost like watching a documentary because the acting is so compelling and draws you in. That doesn't mean it is lacking in drama in any way - far from it.

Emily Watson turns in a stunning performance as Margaret Humphreys a Social Worker from Nottingham who has a chance encounter late one evening with an Australian lady trying to trace her family. When was the last time you heard a story about Social Workers that portrayed them in a positive light? This is one and deservedly so.

The irony of the opening scene finds a deep resonance as the story unfolds. From researching the documents given to her by the Australian woman and decoding the story they tell, Humphreys discovers that over three decades tens of thousands of British children were systematically deported from care to Commonwealth countries. In total, more than 130,000 children were deported to Australia alone. What emerges is that many of the children were only in temporary care and that their families were told they had been adopted by a good family and were now enjoying a much better life.

Many children were told that their parents had died and that they were being given the golden opportunity of travelling to Australia to begin a new life with the promise of sunshine and oranges. The reality was that they were more often than not made to work as slave labourers in the harshest of conditions. Many of the children - particularly the boys, told stories of repeated and systematic rape and abuse. The greater betrayal is that much of the abuse happened at the hands of priests in church orphanages - who then levied punitive charges on the children once they had grown up and were earning so that they could repay the cost of their care!

As Humphreys listens to endless stories, the sheer horror of what she hears eats its way into her caring heart with serious implications for her own health. Added to this as the story unfolds is the growing sense that her family are being asked to pay too high a price themselves as Humphreys spends more and more time in Australia.

The film's genius lies in the gentle way the story is told and how Humphreys persistence in trying to get the authorities to admit and take responsibility for what they have done eventually bears fruit. Furthermore, the way in which Humphreys begins to help the victims own and articulate the fact that as a defence mechanism they have lost the ability to 'feel', is sensitively handled and capably demonstrates the sense of justice and generous humanity that were her motivation.

As sad and sorrowful as the subject matter is, this film is British drama at its very best. No special effects, no fanfares, nothing flashy - simply a good story very well told. I spent large periods of the film fighting back the tears - take the tissues, but do go and see it - it's a story that needs to be heard.

I'll give it 8/10.

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