Thursday, 21 April 2011

Oranges and Sunshine

This is one of those films that I really knew very little about before I saw it. Emily Watson plays Margaret Humphreys, a British Social worker, who by accident finds out about an international scandal. She discovers that 30 or more years ago the British and Australian governments were complicit in the forced migration of children from the UK to Australia. The children were said to be orphans (though often their parents were very much alive at the time), and so they would be given a fresh start in a new country. It turned out that a lot of the children were essentially used as a slave workforce when they arrived. Margaret sees it as a personal challenge to get to the bottom of what really happened, and soon receives the backing of the Social Work office that she works for. Over the course of a few years, Margaret manges to re-unite many children (by now in middle age) with their parents back in the UK.

Directed by Jim Loach (son of Ken), this is quite an emotional film, but is saved from being overwhelming by the way the story is told and the main cast of three: Emily Watson, Hugo Weaving and David Wenham. Waston is great as the driven social worker; it is strange how sometimes she can be very emotional (especially with her children and husband), but when she is present at parent/”orphan” re-unifications she is strangely distant. This probably is due to trying to maintain some professional distance between herself and the people involved; but her blank face was often a bit odd. Of course then her family get the full brunt of what she is really feeling.

Hugo Weaving, despite only having a relatively small role, is fantastic. Even though his character is quiet, he still has a tremendous presence on screen. He is brilliant in the very emotional scene where he discovers that his mother only died within the last year; despite thinking for all these years that he was an orphan. David Wenham has more of a role to get hold of. His character, Len, is initially very sceptical of what Margaret can actually achieve by interfering; he has tried years ago to find his mother and failed. His attitude therefore is quite aggressive towards Margaret. However, his character mellows as Margaret helps him to find his mother, and by the end of the film he is one of the closest friends that Margaret has over in Australia.

A very interesting, well-crafted film starring a cast that is quite understated in their roles, but who nevertheless are all great. I should add that the reason we saw this was to support out local art-house cinema, The Belmont, as it was in danger of being closed due to lack of funding by our city council. I am very happy to say that it has now been saved. Hoorah! It also resulted in seeing this great movie which otherwise would have passed me by; and that’s the great thing about independent cinemas; finding a gem of a film that otherwise I may not have heard of.