Oranges and Sunshine
04 April 2011
Following his father’s footsteps, Jim Loach’s debut feature is a socially aware drama that boasts three exceptional performances and a script that is surprisingly subtle - those who were expecting a film-of-the-week weepie, look away. The tears are not delivered by a cheesy music like in the trailer, but by a story that is quite different to what I was expecting.
Emily Watson plays the Nottingham social worker Margaret Humphreys, who through two serendipituous incidents was made aware of a mass deportation of children from Great Britain to Australia from the 1940s all the way to the 1970s. In 1986, when the film takes place, Margaret makes it her life’s mission to find out why these kids, all from disadvantaged backgrounds, were forcibly sent to live in Australia, lied to about their parents’ deaths, and lived their lives in essentially slave labour.
It could easily have been an Erin Brockovich-style woman taking the Men of the system. The taking-on does happen, but sparingly. There is also some family drama, where the strains of their mother’s incessant desire to pursue her goal crack open a few wounds within the Humphreys house. Yet, this is handled very well, without resorting to dramatic histrionics and SHOUTING.
This is the story of those who suffered through his ordeal. There are a couple of instances, where the survivors speak to Margaret about what they have been through, but none of these really surface as fetishistic woe-is-me, let’s-take-the-hankies-out-and-cry-together monologues. They come in occasionally to season a well-told story of a woman and a couple of people who went through some horrible childhoods.
David Wenham and Hugo Weaving play two of the victims of this deportation - they were sent to Australia as little kids, grew up in the hands of the Christian Brothers, who ran a children’s home called Bindooh near Perth. I am pleased to say, both Faramir and Elrond are absolutely amazing. Especially, Weaving - his Jack is the heart and soul of the film - soft-spoken, always seeming to be on the verge of tears, but adamant to carry on with his life. And Wenham’s wealthy and a little bit cocky Len takes a while to get used to, but once warmed he is a fully-fledged character that seems to be what Margaret needs to continue her quest.
This is not a big film, And it’s not a great film either. But a film that delivers in its promise, and more. Well acted with a great pace. The based-on-a-true-story aspect (something I’m never too comfortable with) is handled with great poise by Rona Munro’s script. Now, if only they stopped casting Hugo Weaving in stupid action roles …