Based on a true story, Oranges & Sunshine is Jim Loach’s directorial debut, starring Emily Watson, Hugo Weaving, David Wenham, Lorraine Ashbourne and Richard Dillane.
The film tells the story of Margaret Humphreys (Watson), a social worker from Nottingham who uncovered one of the most significant social scandals in recent times: the organised deportation of children in care from the United Kingdom to Australia.
Almost single-handedly, against overwhelming odds and with little regard for her own well-being, Margaret reunited hundreds of families, brought authorities in both countries to account and worldwide attention to an extraordinary miscarriage of justice.
Loach’s debut feature is a respectable adaptation of Humphreys’ novel Empty Cradles, taking the morose subject matter and handling it with care.
Instead of floundering in the children’s torment, Loach, with the help of screenwriter Rona Munro, manages to steer the film to the fault-lines but is careful never to thwart the source material, only revealing the true hardships where absolutely necessary.
There are several clumsy moments within Munro’s screenplay, and some of the dialogue is a little too heavy-handed, but these factors are minor enough to never detract from the overall message and conviction of the film.
Loach’s direction compliments the material exquisitely, and he puts his experiences in documentary film-making to admirable effect. His valiant use of hand-held camera is restrained, and the beautiful visual antithesis between a wintery Nottingham and the hot, dusty terrain of Australia is used strikingly to create two very distinctive locations.
Perhaps the films greatest assest are the performances, with each actor delivering extraordinarily refined turns as their respective characters, but none more so than Watson, Wenham and Weaving.
Watson simply dazzles as Margaret, combining the characters vulnerability and unquestionable determination to tremendous avail. Wenham is captivating as the intricate and tightly strung Len, and Weaving delivers a noteworthy performance as the damaged and emotionally troubled Jack.
Oranges & Sunshine is a robustly inspirational yet deeply enraging film about child exile, with a fiery central performance from Emily Watson. It’s certainly a a film that deserves voluminous attention.