Directed by Jim Loach. Starring Emily Watson, David Wenham, Hugo Weaving, Richard Dillane, Lorraine Ashbourne, Kate Rutter 15A cert, lim release, 104 min
Oranges and Sunshine is certainly fired with anger, but Loach fils exhibits a very different style to the older director. He is more concerned with story. He devotes less energy to vérité clutter. The result may be a relatively uncomplicated piece of work, but it is as moving as anything you’ll see this season.
Emily Watson stars as Margaret Humphreys, the Nottingham social worker who uncovered the scandal. The most peculiar aspect of the tale is its long obscurity. By some estimates, as many as 100,000 children, most in community care, were, from the 1940s to the late 1960s, shipped to Australia with promises of oranges and sunshine.
Humphreys first encountered the case when a client, recently returned from Australia, asked her to trace her English family. Margaret initially refused to believe the story. If shiploads of children had been transported to the other side of the world she would surely have known.
At first investigating on her own time and later working officially, this dogged professional discovered that many of the children, born to single mothers, had wrongly been told that their parents were dead. She then set about furnishing the middle-aged citizens with their lost identities.
Hugo Weaving (hammered- down, resigned) and David Wenham (aggressively defensive, suspicious) offer superb performances as men reacting very differently to the revelations. Denson Baker’s camerawork is gently energetic. Lisa Gerrard’s music is seductive.
If the film has a problem, it comes when Loach seeks to address the (depressingly familiar) abuse meted out by Christian Brothers at the Bindoon children’s home in western Australia. The story is certainly worth telling, but, too complex and awful for a subplot, it causes the film to lose focus somewhat.
Still, Oranges and Sunshine remains a powerful piece that – if Jim will allow us one last comparison – is actually more satisfying than another director’s recent Route Irish.