June 6, 2011
Shedding light on a largely unknown piece of Australian history, this incredible true story is compellingly and compassionately told but never unduly sentimental.
For a lengthy period throughout the 20th century, thousands of children were deported from the UK to Australia, supposedly so they could have a better life, one filled with “oranges and sunshine.” They were removed from their families, often after being told that their parents had died, and placed on ships, bound for a land few knew anything about. Here, many of them were placed in institutions in rural areas where they endured years of hardship, abuse and deprivation. One woman, Margaret Humphreys, a social worker from Nottingham, was largely responsible for discovering what had been done to these children, and this film is her story.
In 1986, Margaret (Emily Watson) was approached by an Australian woman who was trying to learn about her origins. She told Margaret a seemingly preposterous story about being sent to Australia on a boat when she was four-years-old. Initially doubtful, Margaret then heard of other similar experiences, and she began to explore the records and archives from this period. She travelled to Australia, and soon encountered many more men and women, now in their forties and fifties, who were also struggling with their identities, unaware of their real origins and backgrounds. Amongst these were Jack (Hugo Weaving) and Len (David Wenham). Moving between the two countries, Margaret uncovered the truth behind the forced migration; it was an organised scheme, sanctioned by both governments, which ran for many decades. She then worked tirelessly on behalf of the children, succeeding in reuniting many of them with their families.
Oranges And Sunshine is a gripping story, told with compassion and sensitivity, but without undue emotion or sentimentality. Emily Watson is ideally cast as Margaret, and her performance is entirely convincing. It is incredible that this piece of recent Australian history is largely unknown, and hopefully this film will go some way towards redressing the gap in our knowledge.