Nottingham social worker Margaret Humphreys is approached after work one day by a woman claiming she was sent from the UK to Australia as a child. As Margaret begins to investigate the case, she finds out that the problem was more widespread than anyone could imagine. Her investigations take her to Australia, as she tries to piece together exactly what occurred decades before…
Despite the sheer scale of the child migration schemes, which ran up until 1967, Oranges and Sunshine concentrates on a very personal story. Rather than portraying the scope of events, the film focuses on Margaret Humphreys. Screenwriter Rona Munro weaves the narrative around Humphreys, encompassing the social worker’s family life as well as the lives of those she helps. Oranges and Sunshine concentrates on a handful of characters, presumably representative of some of the wide range of stories out there.
Although the film begins detailing facts about the case, it becomes more of a emotional drama than a historical one. The failure of Oranges and Sunshine is this shift half way through. The film leaves behind the facts and historical detail to concentrate on the emotional toll on Humphreys, her family, and those affected by the forced migration. The film perhaps would have been stronger if the factual grounding had been retained throughout.
At times it feels as if the film is actively eliciting an emotional response from viewers. For example, the intertwining of various stories of similar abuse from different men indicates that audiences should feel sympathy and outrage. However, the actual events themselves are harrowing enough that Jim Loach’s employment of these devices add little power themselves.
The cinematography in Oranges and Sunshine is excellent in the way it highlights the strong contrast between Australia and the north of England. Some of the Australian scenery is idyllic, contradicting effortlessly with the stories of abuse that occurred.
Emily Watson is superb as Margaret Humphreys. Much of the action is viewed through her eyes, and Watson portrays the emotional burden carried by the character well. Hugo Weaving is utterly believable as Jack, while Richard Dillane is solid as Margaret’s husband Merv.
As a film about Margaret Humphreys, Oranges and Sunshine works well. It is a pity that the film did not feature more of the detail of events, as it is certainly a story worth telling.