Oranges and Sunshine is the incredibly moving debut film from director Jim Loach. After working in television for over a decade on programmes such as Shameless and Waterloo Road, the director has crossed platforms presenting a natural flair for narrative cinema.
Instinctively, Oranges and Sunshine evokes the social realist style that remains prevalent in the work of the director’s father, Ken Loach. Yet despite temptation for obvious comparisons, Jim Loach has developed his own artistic vision to deliver a film that is beautifully shot and wondrously elusive in its portrayal of raw human emotion.
Based on the real life accounts revealed in the book Empty Cradles, the film retells a shocking true story. For over a hundred years up until 1970, thousands of British children living in care were sent overseas to live and work in the colonies under the enforcement of corrupt government schemes.
Set in Nottingham in 1986, Oranges and Sunshine follows social worker Margaret Humphreys (Emily Watson) as she carries out her controversial investigation uncovering the horrific extent of the child migration programme.
The story begins when Margaret is approached by an Australian woman who claims that she was shipped off to Australia at the age of four. Like thousands of other child migrants, the woman was mistreated throughout her youth and after discovering that her mother was alive and still living in Nottingham, the woman asks for Margaret’s help in the hope that she can trace her estranged family.
With the help of her colleagues in social services, and whilst attracting worldwide media attention, Margaret flies back and forth from Australia to help find the families of thousands of people who were victims of the inhumane system. As she talks to individuals about their experiences, she discovers that thousands of children suffered years of abuse in the care homes without any of it being reported.
In search for justice, Margaret establishes the Child Migrants Trust and achieves prestigious recognition for her work. Despite this, both the British and the Australian government refused to accept responsibility or give public apologies for the deportations and subsequent abuse until recent years.
Needless to say Oranges and Sunshine is an intense story that is as fascinating as it is harrowing. Watson is respectful and dignified in her performance, particularly in the scenes which portray Margaret’s overwhelming sense of empathy. Co-stars Hugo Weaving and David Wenham give heartfelt and understated performances revealing their characters’ emotional pain in a way that is both poetic and moving.
Jim Loach’s debut is visually stunning in a simplistic and raw sense. It is refreshingly unpretentious despite the complexity of the cathartic situations within the narrative. Oranges and Sunshine represents the many people who were deprived of family, love and consequently their identity. It is an impressive and significant film that will no doubt bring a tear to even the most resilient viewer.
Beth Glanvill is a Bristolian freelance writer who loves the city and its people. British film and cult TV are her passions. If you want to read more from Beth, visit her blog: http://bethglanvill.blogspot.com/