Oranges and Sunshine
dir Jim Loach
scr Rona Munro
prd Camilla Bray, Iain Canning, Emile Sherman
with Emily Watson, Hugo Weaving, David Wenham, Richard Dillane, Lorraine Ashbourne, Neil Pigot, Federay Holmes, Kate Rutter, Russell Dykstra, Tara Morice, Stuart Wolfenden, Barbara Marten
release UK 1.Apr.11
10/UK 1h45
Oranges and Sunshine
Confronting the past: Weaving and Watson

watson weaving wenham
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Oranges and Sunshine For his feature-directing debut, Jim Loach (son of Ken) tackles a big story with topical relevance and emotional undercurrents. It's an earnest, straightforward film that's intensely moving and never sentimental.

In 1986 Nottingham, Margaret Humphreys (Watson) stumbles into something that seems unthinkable: poor children in the 1950s were bundled onto ships and sent to Australia, where they were stripped of their identities and put into indentured service at children's homes. As she starts investigating, in order to help now-grown children find long-lost parents, she realises that this is just the tip of the iceberg. Assisted by two of these orphans (Weaving and Wenham), she uncovers a horrific system that ran for four decades with complicity from both governments.

Based on Humphreys' book Empty Cradles, the film explores the story from her perspective as she works tirelessly in both Australia and Britain to reunite families torn apart by lies. Parents were told their children had been adopted into better homes, while children were told their parents were dead. They were sent off to a promised life of oranges and sunshine Down Under, which actually turned out to be a life of abuse and slavery.

The pain of these events ripples through this relatively understated film, with a remarkably organic approach as the camera almost reluctantly follows Margaret into each new discovery or encounter. Even the cathartic reunions are played with raw honesty, resisting the temptation to surge into heartwarming melodrama when something much more complex is actually going on.

Through all of this, Watson delivers a smartly graded performance that reveals Margaret's tenacity and fragility. She skilfully maintains this through scenes that are funny, sweet, terrifying and wrenchingly sad. The other stand-out is Weaving, who brings a gently loping charm to his character, then begins to peel back layers to reveal both the little boy and steely man inside.

Combining a darkly shocking story with such gently realistic filmmaking marks Loach as a director to watch. The film has a fluid, open-hearted tone that continually catches us off guard. It leaves us deeply shaken that this kind of thing could have gone on for so long. And that only one woman had the nerve to blow the whistle.

cert 15 themes, brief language 17.Jan.11

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© 2011 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall