With a superb performance at its heart by actress Emily Watson, Jim Loach’s Oranges and Sunshine is a fantastic, powerful movie – even if it is a shame that it ever needed to be made.
I might have said that it’s best to go into the movie knowing as little as possible, but on this occasion it’s a subject that everyone should be well aware of, a true-life scandal that’s been covered up for far too long.
Watson plays Margaret Humphreys, a social worker from Nottingham who in 1986 started to uncover the forced migration of children from the United Kingdom. We follow her journey to Australia to meet some of the thousands affected, attempting to reconnect them with the parents and other relatives (in some cases those deported had been wrongfully told their parents were dead).
As the details became more publicised, more people came forward and appalling details came to light of the horrific abuse some suffered as children. This movie focuses in on the dreadful treatment meted out to innocents at Bindoon, an institution run by the Christian Brothers.
Of course, as happens so often when good people struggle to do the right thing, Humphreys finds herself subject to intimidation and death threats, also suffering after sacrificing time with her own family to listen to and empathise with the dreadful experiences of those now relying on her for whatever resolution they can find.
Watson plays Humphreys with a quiet resoluteness, refusing to crack or even lash out against those who at times absolutely seem to deserve it. It’s an enthralling performance, and one which surely should feature in the next awards season. (Coming as it is a bit late for this one.)
By focussing in on just a few of the cases, Loach allows time to get to know the characters at the heart of Oranges and Sunshine, rather than darting between too many subjects and lessening the substantial emotional impact. David Wenham is perfect as the stoic Len, who seems almost unmoved by his experiences, and Hugo Weaving is just heartbreaking as Jack.
It should be said that despite the subject matter, this isn’t a grim movie. It details a triumph of the human spirit, while not shying away from the horrors that lurk all around us. The world would be a better place with more people like Humphreys around, just as it would be for more movies like Oranges and Sunshine.