May 20, 2011
Oranges and Sunshine is the true story of Margaret Humphreys (Emily Watson), a social worker from Nottingham, who is exposed to a great social injustice and goes to great lengths to uncover the truth.
The year is 1986. Margaret is approached by a woman claiming that she wants to find out who she is, but all she can remember is being sent on a boat with hundreds of other children to Australia when she was only four. The story doesn’t add up, why would so many children be shipped off to Australia, and who was supposed to be looking after them? When Margaret hears of another woman being contacted by a long lost brother in Australia, and the stories told are very similar, she starts looking into the issue.
What she uncovers is truly appalling. These two cases only touched the surface of the true situation. 130,000 children were deported from the United Kingdom to Australia whilst under government care, and the most surprising fact; nobody knew about it. Many parents believed their children had been adopted, and were being given a chance at a better life. And many of the children were falsely told that their parents were dead.
They were promised oranges and sunshine, and it was reinforced that without their parents, they may as well go to Australia. Left with nothing for them in Nottingham, the promise of a better life in Australia was highly alluring. However what they found when they reached Australia was far from this.
Here we meet many an interesting character, all longing to find out who they truly are, and wanting to find their families. From the shy, reverent Jack (Hugo Weaving), to the exuberant and awkward Len (David Wenham), stories are uncovered about the hard labour the children were forced into, and the atrocities they had to endure.
The support for Margaret from both her workplace and her extremely compassionate husband is incredible. Travelling between Perth and Nottingham to try and trace links between families takes its toll, and puts pressure on her own family. She is also met by resistance, but even with the incredible weight of the project and these threats of violence, nothing can stop Margaret from fighting for an apology from the governments, and for support in developing the Child Migrants Trust to assist in counselling and finding families.
The pace of the film is quite slow, and sometimes it feels more explanation is necessary and greater depth of characters should be shown. However being the story that it is, these factors add to the nature of the slow process, the number of people involved, and even the lack of closure evident for many of the child migrants. A truly shocking story gives the film its value.
Not only depicting a true event in history, the film asks a moral question, summed up by film writer Rona Munro: “if you notice something that’s wrong, how much are you prepared to do about it?” The conviction Margaret has in uncovering the truth and fighting for the voices of these child migrants to be heard makes for a compelling and incredible tale.