Jim Loach, son of Ken, was always going to be on a hiding to nothing with his debut feature. Bringing a worthier-than-thou tale to the screen, the comparisons to his father’s immense body of work are inevitable, even more so given how this adaptation of Nottingham social worker Margaret Humphreys’ book Empty Cradles is by Rona Munro, who previously scripted Loach Snr’s harrowing 1994 film Ladybird Ladybird.
Set in 1986, Humphreys (Emily Watson) uncovers a dirty secret in our past. Back in the 1950s, British children in care – many of whom still had families – were shipped off to Australia, told that their parents no longer wanted them and housed with strict Catholic institutions. Thirty years on, Humphreys decides to reunite as many former child migrants as possible with their families – easier said than done when you’re up against the Church.
The ever-dependable Watson is a rock here – and the best scenes are between her and the two male leads, Hugo Weaving and David Wenham, cast as men who’ve had very different emotional reactions to being victims of this shameful scandal. Like his father, Loach directs simply and without fuss, even if this unremittingly bleak tale lacks the Kes director’s trademark humour. But as first films go, it’s impressive and accomplished.
GFT, Glasgow from Friday 1–Thursday 14 April; Filmhouse, Edinburgh from Friday 1–Thursday 21 April.