We’ll meet again – Oranges and Sunshine review

Oranges and SunshineStarring Emily Watson, Hugo Weaving and David Wenham. Directed by Jim Loach. Rated M. By Hilary Simmons.

A sad and bizarre true story based on the life of Margaret Humphreys, a social worker from Nottingham, Oranges and Sunshine dramatises the organised deportation of British children from 1950 right up until 1970. Thousands upon thousands of “disadvantaged” children were removed from community care and transported to Australia (as well as to New Zealand, Rhodesia and Canada) for “their own good.” Promised fresh fruit and fair weather, instead, they were herded into group homes or grim institutions and exposed to regular physical and sexual abuse.

They believed they were orphans; in reality, many of them had been placed in care by stigmatised single mothers seeking a temporary solution, or else “removed” from prostitutes or “undesirable” types. Both the British and Australian governments were unconcerned with the effect of loss and relocation on individual lives because providing care for poor children was considerably cheaper abroad.

Margaret Humphreys is the social worker who uncovered this sickening social scandal and almost singlehandedly brought authorities to account. We see Humphreys – played with energy and conviction by Emily Watson – inadvertently stumble on the scandal while investigating the family history of an Australian woman named Charlotte (Federay Holmes). The subject matter of Jim Loach’s debut feature is so upsetting that his understated concentration on storytelling rather than sentimentalising not only highlights the enormity of what happened, but provides some welcome emotional relief. In the climactic reunion scenes, the raw intensity of the situations need no emphasis beyond the empathetic and utterly devastating performances (particularly from Hugo Weaving and Lorraine Ashbourne).

Clearly it is a story that needs to be told, if for no other reason than, while it sounds like a harrowing Dickensian tale, Humphreys only uncovered it in 1986. Both former PM Kevin Rudd in 2009 and UK PM Gordon Brown in 2010 issued formal apologies to the children and families affected by organised deportation in an acknowledgement that this ugly story is an unfortunate fact of Australian and British history. The tragedy is that while an apology at best recognises pain and suffering, it can never undo it.

4/5

Oranges and Sunshine is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.

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