ORANGES AND SUNSHINE depicts the true story of Margaret Humphreys, the Nottinghamshire social worker who exposed both the British and Australian governments for the horrific treatment of state-protected children. The decades-long scandal saw the British government sanction the mass deportation of children to Australia, where many were subjected to abuse and appalling conditions. The story has fallen under the radar in the UK, and despite news coverage at the time, is largely forgotten by the British public.
The film is slow to begin with, and the first third never really gets under the skin of the story. Though the reality of the situation is a source of strong and difficult emotions, the film initially struggles to elevate itself above the downbeat legal drama common to British television. And whilst the domestic context for Emily Watson’s protagonist feels slightly clumsy, the main fault is perhaps with the subject matter itself – adoption and its inherent issues will be difficult for a majority of viewers to empathise with, and writer Rona Munro struggles to bring this to life. To begin with at least…
As the story moves along, the script manages to engage the viewer more effectively, striking out with scenes of heart-breaking emotion and genuine suspense. All of these moments are supported by a number of solid performances, which really act as the movie’s backbone. Emily Watson shines, slowly bringing the impact of the scandal to her character; Hugo Weaving is flawless and naturalistic; and David Wenham delivers one of the most satisfying character arcs in recent memory, from obnoxious alpha male to sensitive and trusted everyman.
For some, the movie may be too slow to involve themselves with, for others it will be one of the year’s finest dramatic pieces – subtle but undoubtedly moving. Though it is unlikely make big waves in the multiplexes, ORANGES AND SUNSHINE will be remembered for strong performances and emotions, something that rarely carries a movie in this day and age.
Oranges and Sunshine is released in cinemas April 1st