Director Jim Loach
Release date: 1 April
It is not often you encounter a film that satirises itself so perfectly.
Oranges and Sunshine begins with our female protagonist, social worker Margaret Humphreys, removing a child from the care of its “unfit” mother. We later hear Humphreys’ own son exclaiming, “I gave you my mum!” He feels that his mother has been removed from him by her personal and emotional involvement with her work.
Oranges and Sunshine highlights a period of history that was kept in the dark for too long. Humphreys is approached with two cases of children being deported to Australia and their quest to find their real mothers. The film traces her discovery of the forced migration of children, and their abuse and torture at the hands of the Christian Brothers in Bindoon, an isolated institution near Perth.
Her altruism in setting up the Child’s Migrant Trust, which aims to reconnect these children with their parents, while also exposing the horrendous level of mistreatment, soon has a negative impact on her life. She is faced with threats and violence from those adversely affected.
The first frame of the film sees a bird’s eye view of a police car – subtly indicating that this is not a film to congratulate the work of the authorities.
The conservative ideologies that resonate from the church are bruised by Jim Loach’s realism, as it questions the practices of the Christian institutions and those of the British and Australian governments.
However, the pace of the film devalues it somewhat at the beginning with the emergence of Charlotte, a child sufferer, very suddenly and without much context.
The casting is beautifully accomplished, and the performances definitely build on this strength. Hugo Weaving convincingly portrays Jack, a soft, vulnerable child of Bindoon – a character almost the antithesis of his typecast Agent Smith of The Matrix. Emily Watson plays a calm, resolute Humphreys.
However, this character is not lacking in emotion, especially during the scene in which she and deportee Len (David Wenham) visit Bindoon and sit amid the Christian Brothers. The interspersed flashbacks of these migrants’ harrowing experiences subtly build the tension, anger and fear that reside within Humphreys.
Stylistically, the film is predictable. A film directed by Jim Loach – the son of Ken, credited as script consultant – has neon signs pointing at it saying “HAND HELD REALISM”.
This style effectively conveys that Oranges and Sunshine is based on true events. The Loach team inform in the best way possible, with a style similar to Humphreys: tense but calm.
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