Monday, July 11, 2011

New Release Review: Oranges and Sunshine (Jim Loach, 2010)

The tragic true events that Oranges and Sunshine bases its narrative on are quite extraordinary and difficult to accept, and this is rich source material for a feature film. As horrific as the stories of these unfortunate people are, and how damning the account of this unreported social injustice is, the film was surprisingly stripped of the emotional resonance that was intended. Quite unimaginative direction from first-timer Jim Loach (son of Ken Loach), who chooses to remain restrained and subtle in his approach, and an uneven structure, leaves one feeling that this would have better served as a television movie.


Set in the 1986, this is the story of Margaret Humphreys (Emily Watson), a social worker from Nottingham, who uncovered the "home children" scandal, the illegal forced relocation of thousands of children from the UK to Australia. Her strong-willed dedication and perseverance not only results in her success in reuniting some of the now adult deported children with their estranged families and finding them their lost identity, but also manages to bring worldwide attention to the scandal and attracts financial support to back her independent quest.

The revelations of these children’s experiences in institutions such as Keaney College in Bindoon, Western Australia, are horrifying to behold. Some of the performances are so genuine that it feels like the accounts of their experiences are coming first-hand. Having been made to believe that their parents had died, these children were removed from British state care and shipped unsupervised to Australia, where the Australian government then assumed responsibility and transported them to these poorly conditioned institutions. Kevin Rudd, during his tenure, apologized on behalf of Australia for its involvement in the scheme, while UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown also made a formal apology to the affected families in February 2010.

When they arrived, they were given a single pair of clothes and shoes; lived in unventilated dorms, forced to complete slave labor tasks, and were often raped and brutalized. Those eventually released from Bindoon (as many as 10 years later), were forced to repay the debt they ‘owed’ to the Christian Brothers who were responsible for them. Though it successfully tells this powerful and moving tale, Oranges and Sunshine is not especially well made in any way. The film’s cinematography, editing and score are all fairly uninventive and generic. Many of the scenes feel quite awkwardly staged, and the films structure, which is comprised of quick one-off sequences, often results in some developments feeling shallow and inconsequential.


This is Emily Watson’s stage and she is excellent, but I have seen both Hugo Weaving and David Wenham (who are both solid) in far better roles. They play Jack and Len, men who have chosen very different ways to cope with their childhood traumas, as it continues to cause them pain in their adult lives. While the film is powerful in it’s examination of its themes, it also feels somewhat restrained. I think the film’s depiction of the Christian Brothers and their violent supporters, was especially weak. I think the film was perhaps a little safe, and as a result was not overly memorable. I guess, for me, it was disappointing. But this story is one that every Australian should be knowledgeable about, and for this reason, Oranges and Sunshine is worth a look. 

My Rating: 3 Stars (C)

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