At the Movies
June 8, 2011
Margaret Humphreys, uncovers one of the most significant social scandals in recent times: the forced migration of children from the United Kingdom.
Review by David Stratton
In 1986, Nottingham social worker Margaret Humphreys, EMILY WATSON, is approached by Charlotte, FEDERAY HOLMES, an Australian woman who wants to discover her true identity. Later, in a group therapy class, Margaret meets Nicky, LORRAINE ASHBOURNE, who laments the loss of her brother, Jack, whom she believes was sent to Australia as a small child, while she was brought up in an English orphanage. After further research Margaret discovers that Charlotte and Jack were just two of the many thousands of children who, in the 1950s and 1960s, were transported to Australia ‘for their own good’, told that they were orphans.
On her first research trip to Australia, Margaret reacquaints Nicky with her brother, Jack, HUGO WEAVING. She also encounters Len, DAVID WENHAM, who masks his pain with his overbearing attitude.
This first feature from Jim Loach, son of Ken Loach, is a fine achievement. The story of the many thousands of English children who were illegally transported to Australia is a harrowing one, but Loach doesn’t sentimentalise or over-dramatise it. The revelation that many of these children, who were placed in homes run by the Christian Brothers, were abused or forced into virtual slave labour, is an astonishing one – how could these things have happened in recent memory? Both Gordon Brown and Kevin Rudd, when they were Prime Ministers, issued formal apologies.
There are beautiful performances here from every member of the cast, and it’s much to Loach’s credit that he handles this potentially sensational material with such restraint. Above all, many scenes are incredibly moving.
MARGARET: Yes, it is. You’re dealing with one of those primal bonds here, which is the parent/child thing and it’s even more pathetic because these people are grownups very much into adulthood, and that pain is still there.
DAVID: Yes. Yes.
MARGARET: But, from both parents and the children.
MARGARET: It’s the most outrageous thing that happened.
DAVID: It’s an extraordinary story, isn’t it? It really is.
MARGARET: And the fact that her delving into this was resisted so much by both the Australian and the British governments at the time.
MARGARET: This sort of like – they were forced finally to come out in the open about this scheme but, I totally agree with you. I think Ken Loach has really imbued his son with this idea of non-sentimentalisation of subject matter and he’s really taken it to heart and it’s such a heart-wrenching story that because of his restraint I just think it makes it more moving and I think Hugo and David are really outstanding, as is Emily Watson. They’re all good.
DAVID: They’re all good.
MARGARET: They all contribute to making this something really real.
DAVID: It’s funny, when I was in Cannes last year, talking to Ken Loach, he said, “Oh, by the way, my son Jim has been making a film in Australia,” and he said, “And I think it’s pretty good.” And I think he was right. I think it is pretty good.
MARGARET: I think he was right too. I’m giving it four stars.
DAVID: Me too. Four stars.