Released in cinemas 1st April 2011.
The directorial debut of Jim Loach (son of Ken), he struggles to betray his television roots in this deeply earnest drama, for this shocking true story is given frustratingly staid treatment.
Emily Watson plays Margaret Humphreys, the Nottingham social worker who devoted years of her life during the 1980s to reuniting families torn apart by the British government’s deportation of children in care. Despite having living mothers, children were shipped off to Australia in an exchange that started mid-19th century and continued right up until the 1970s. Stripped of their identity and vulnerable to abuse, there were generations of lost children, promised a land of "oranges and sunshine".
With Humphreys relocating to Australia to reunite British familes with their long-lost relatives, it falls upon some fine Aussie thespians to make Oranges and Sunshine more fascinating. Hugo Weaving is hugely impressive as a victim of a Church-run institution; a crumpled but brave man, his heartbreaking, passionate performance is wasted in a film that seems nervous. David Wenham is equally brilliant as the prickly, distrusting Len, whose trust in Margaret has to be earned. He provides some desperately needed humour, pathos and personality.
In his politely conscientious drama, Loach Jr doesn’t inherit the kitchen sink realism of his father, and it lacks momentum as a narrative. Rona Munro’s script allows the facts to speak volumes, but Watson and Loach seem afraid of emotion. It could’ve been her most showy role, but Watson wisely plays safe. Alas, it veers too close to stoicism to be compelling, and as a result, Humphreys’ motives are never truly felt. The abandoning of her family and the risks taken are not believable in these circumstances. It’s admirable that Loach has given the affected families a respectful, understated film without melodramatics, but it doesn’t belong on the big screen.