ABC North Queensland
June 10, 2011
This big screen story of the Forgotten Children is moving and impressive.
Movies can sometimes be more than just entertainment. A well-made film can make us think, and shine a light on an issue or topic that we haven’t paid attention to before. It can create positive change. Oranges and Sunshine is one such film.
Based on a true story, the film is about Margaret Humphreys (played by Emily Watson), a social worker who provides post-adoption support in Nottingham, England.
One night in the mid-1980s, she’s approached by a woman who claims she was sent to Australia against her wishes and separated from her mother and brought up in an institution. At first Margaret is skeptical, but when she digs a little deeper, she discovers a series of similar cases. Up until 1970, the British government was sending disadvantaged children to places like Australia, often without the knowledge or consent of their parents.
Margaret not only attempts to make this public, she also wants to reunite the families who have been torn apart. Her investigations reveal thousands of broken souls who not only lost their parents, but suffered terrible abuse and neglect at the hands of those who were meant to be providing care.
Margaret Humphreys’ actions led to eventual apologies from both the Australian and British governments to the Forgotten or Home Children (as they came to be called), and the setting up of the Child Migrants Trust. She received the Order of Australia in 1993, and a CBE earlier this year. But director Jim Loach’s film centres on Margaret’s early years when nobody wanted to listen to the stories she was uncovering.
This is a wise move because Oranges and Sunshine is as much about one woman’s struggle as it is about the devastating information she finds. It’s through her eyes that we come to understand what has happened to these children, and when she becomes overwhelmed with what she’s facing, it helps us as an audience to sympathise.
Rona Munro’s script also focuses on two characters caught up in these terrible events. There’s Jack (played by Hugo Weaving), who was sent to Australia as a child, but has now been reunited with his British sister.
And there’s Len (David Wenham), a tough nut who suffered abuse at a remote property run by Christian Brothers. He and Margaret don’t get on to start with, but it turns out that Len has a pivotal role to play in her journey.
This is such a moving and thought-provoking film. But what I really liked is that it also refuses to be cloying or sentimental about its emotional subject matter. Director Jim Loach is the son of acclaimed British filmmaker Ken Loach, and he shows such a sensitivity and grace with the story. These characters are presented as real people with affecting stories to tell.
The performances are wonderful. Hugo Weaving is quite heartbreaking in his role as the damaged Jack, but this is Emily Watson’s movie. Her performance as Margaret is simply outstanding and utterly believable. She gives the movie its heart and soul.
It’s also the little things that matter in this picture. You might think it’s pretty easy to make a movie that’s set in the 80s, but when you look at the detail of things like taxis, phone booths, airport departure lounges and computer games, you realise how carefully the production team worked to make it look just right.
Hopefully Oranges and Sunshine will do more than simply provide a night out at the movies. I hope it makes audiences more aware of what happened in our recent past, and understand the devastating impact that can come from government policies.