Oranges and Sunshine comes from a very rare breed of movies. Movies that draw you in and hold you in their clutches, whilst educating you about the world you thought you knew, are hard to come by. When we do find them, it’s often hard to survive the two hours. This is where Oranges and Sunshine makes its departure. Like the victims it introduces, this movie is no ‘victim’, and audiences will be pleasantly surprised by their ability to laugh in the face of what is a harrowing story.
The film is based on the true story of Margaret Humphries, an unassuming social worker and family woman who inadvertently stumbles upon the untold story of child migrants, who, having been told their parents had died, were piled into massive ships and brought to Australia where they endured hard work and often abuse. When Humphries comes across one such migrant’s mother, still alive and well, having been told her daughter was safely adopted, the process of single-handedly reuniting these families begins to utterly consume her life.
Emily Watson effortlessly plays Humphries, masterfully navigating her home and working lives and emotionally engaging with a character who willingly takes the weight of two worlds onto her shoulders. Watson breathes humour and panic into her character in equal measure to create the complex author of Empty Cradles, from which the movie takes its lead. Throughout Watson’s performance, it’s easy to see what drew the film’s creators to her story in particular. Hugo Weaving is another incredible addition to a wonderful cast, playing Jack, one of the first child migrants Margaret meets. Jack is one of the most emotionally complex characters we meet, and Weaving gives one of his finest performances as every cell in his character is effortlessly believable.
Oranges and Sunshine is an emotional rollercoaster, bringing its audience through crushing lows, and giggling highs. Visually, it is a feast. Having been filmed between the UK and Australia, one might assume a slight fissure between the two, but each location plays upon the emotions of the characters. Somehow, Australia is visually scorching, whilst Nottingham jumps between gloomy and safely pleasant, no mean feat for a crew hopping on and off long-distance flights.
It is a human tale which interrogates the very nature of identity and asks one question. If our identities are shattered around us for our entire lives, what do we as adults do when we are presented with our lost identities later in life? Director Jim Loach’s television and documentary background is evident throughout as the story never slips through the cracks into cheesy flashbacks, remaining forever in the moment. His true genius is in creating the cinematic aspects of an incredibly internal story. There are few watchable films which give us this kind of interior view of our heroine, and, for me, that was incredibly refreshing.
Go see Oranges and Sunshine because there’s a world of injustices out there that we know nothing about. Go because there are millions of voices wishing to be heard, and this gives voice to just a couple. Go because it is at its core a human story. See it because Hugo Weaving and Emily Watson put on stellar performances, or go simply because you like the popcorn, whatever you do, just don’t miss out on it.