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Film Review: "Oranges And Sunshine"

Tallie Johnson |
October 17, 2011 | 11:57 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

There is an undeniable connection between a mother and a child.  It is a bond that includes support, protection, and pure unconditional love. If this bond

Emily Watson and David Wenham in Oranges and Sunshine
Emily Watson and David Wenham in Oranges and Sunshine
is broken it can cause repercussions for the child years later into adulthood.

There are little rays of light in the somber “Oranges and Sunshine”, which tells the story of social worker Margaret Humphreys who in the late 1980s discovers the systematic deportation of children from the United Kingdom to Australia. The story focuses on Humphreys, played by Emily Watson, struggle in uncovering the details behind this child migration, and then nearly single-handedly connecting children with their families.

Directed by Jim Loach, the story is based on the book “Empty Cradles” by Margaret Humphreys herself. Already an overworked social worker, Humphreys uncovers the deportation when a woman begs Humphreys to help her find her family. Confused as to why the woman remembered being put on a boat as a child, Humphreys researches like a detective. Realizing there could be something to this woman’s story Humphreys follow her back to Australia where she discovers other people are missing their families as well. The journey of Humphreys shock and utter disbelief of these horrific government sanctions actions takes the audience on the journey with her of peeling back the layers of a hidden piece of history.

The story weaves in facts of the migration that would remove children as young as three from their homes often without there parents knowing. Over 3,000 children were shipped to Australia without their families, and forced to do manual labor. The strikingly emotional story is never overacted or overstated. Watson’s portrayal is refreshing honest and never melodramatic. 

Humphreys becomes dedicated full time to the cause, moving to Australia and starting the Child Migration Trust. It is then that the voices of the children who were taken from their parents shifts the mood of the story. It is the actors who play the adult children of the migration who add another layer of depth to the story. The emotional ties of a family are emphasized with each actor who gives voice to a lost childhood and emptiness. Len, played by David Wenham and Jack, played by Hugo Weaving are two of the main adult children Humphreys interacts with. Both have suffered huge losses and are emotionally bankrupt. Jack is completely disheartened by not knowing his mother and is withdrawn. Len erupts with arrogance and anger. 
There is a point for Humphreys that in carrying the burden of pain of so many she is physically affected and sick. Her own family becomes neglected as she spends most of time helping others in Australia and away from her home in Nottingham.

The film never overplays Humphrey’s heroism, which is pronounced by her daily selfish actions and passion for helping others. There are few moments when the film tries to break the heavy tone with Len and Humphreys singing in the car. But for the most part is shows the sincere damage of the children scene after scene with quiet powerful moments.

The film shows Humphreys courage in seeking justice from the British Government, who does not issue a formal apology until February of 2010.  Since it is a cinematic story, it doesn’t delve into really why this was happening, providing more clear statistics and facts that a documentary could have done easier.  Instead the story is more about lives it impacted.

It tells the story of bravery without the overt bells and whistles. It tells the story of human compassion without the sappy orchestra and music. It tells the story of social injustice without being preachy. It tells the universal story of the true importance of a mother’s love, without missing a beat.

In one of the most poignant, subtle and emotional scenes of the film Jack explains why he started drinking, and why his life feel apart at the seams: 
“There is an emptiness inside me and the only thing that can fill it is my mother.”

"Oranges and Sunshine" opens October 21st with a limited release.

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