It tells the incredible true story of Margaret Humphreys, played by Emily Watson, a social care worker in 1980s Nottingham who stumbles upon the cases of two adults who were taken to Australia as children, deported as part of a scheme by the British government to send children from orphanages in the UK to overseas colonies. As Margaret investigates further, she realises the terrifying scope of this programme, which deported tens of thousands of children over several decades, until as recently as the 1970s. Travelling between Australia and the UK, Margaret dedicates her life to helping these “Forgotten Australians” find out the truth about their origins.
Director Jim Loach handles the sensitive subject matter at the heart of this film with care, and displays an urgency in telling the story of these “Lost Children of the Empire”, betrayed by the government meant to look after them, and often exposed to abuse in the institutions they were sent to. At times the film feels overly expositional and somewhat disjointed, but this probably stems from its strong sense of responsibility in presenting the full scope of this complex story.
Emily Watson gives a great performance as Margaret, a headstrong woman whose drive to expose this scandal and help its victims eventually takes its toll on her private life, her health, and even her safety. David Wenham is compelling as Len, a child migrant who has grown up to become wealthy and successful, and whose charm and self-assured exterior rarely betrays the horrors and abuse he was exposed to as a child. But it is Hugo Weaving who delivers the most heart-wrenching performance as Jack, a vulnerable man who has only recently reunited with his long-lost sister, and comes to Margaret in the hopes of finding his mother.
Loach’s remarkable direction, along with the film’s careful recreation of the look of 1980s England and Australia, complement the strong performances to bring us a film that is a powerful and memorable experience.