The orange doesn’t fall far from the tree in the feature debut of Jim ‘son of Ken’ Loach, an earnest retelling of how the shameful deportation of thousands of children from Britain to its former colonies came to light in the ’80s.
Loach Jr has inherited his father’s righteous indignation and measured style. If he’s also acquired Ken’s didactic bent, that’s an OK price to pay for a film that draws attention to a truly appalling injustice.
Emily Watson plays Nottingham social worker Margaret Humphreys who, having been approached by a young Australian battling to be reunited with the mother from whom she was separated as a kid, realises her story is the tip of the iceberg.
A little digging unearths a programme of relocation which saw many innocents suffer terrible abuse at the hands of guardians on the other side of the world, and many more grow up pining for relatives they’d cruelly been told had died or no longer wanted them.
Faced with a wall of silence and some hostility, this Midlands Erin Brockovich sets about raiding archives, reuniting families and seeking redress that belatedly came, in 2009, with a humble mea culpa from the Aussie government.
It’s a shocking saga to be sure. Yet it doesn’t quite translate as compelling drama, loach and scripter Rona Munro seeming cowed by the scale of the scandal and their terror of exploiting it.
Their iffy solution to the former is to focus on just two representative test cases: a closed-off Hugo Weaving and a sceptical David Wenham.
The latter, alas, simply stymies them, their reverence for the material resulting in a worthy tale so weighed down by the burden of history that it ends up flattened by it.
You want to be moved more than you are by a film that doesn’t tap the emotions half as much as the facts. Loach shows promise, though.