Friday, 1 April 2011

Oranges and Sunshine (Plus Q&A)

Your parents are dead so you may as well go to Australia. It's sunny all the time and you can pick Oranges from Orange trees every morning for breakfast.

This is what was told to a young boy in care in England in the 1950s who was then shipped over to Australia with promises of a new life. Sadly though, this is not what awaited the thousands of children who were shipped over there during the course of more than a decade. What awaited them was slave labour in blistering heat and no family, no love, no support. Just abuse and the most degrading punishments for being weak and useless.

But this film is not their story.

This film is the story of Margaret Humphreys (played by the brilliant Emily Watson), a social worker in the 1980s who randomly came across the story of a girl who had been shipped to Australia as a young girl as she had been put into care after the death of her parents. She was now in the UK trying to track down her birth certificate and identity. While working with this woman, Margaret discovers that the woman's mother who was supposedly long dead is actually alive and well.

This starts Margaret's investigation, along with her eternally supportive husband (also a Social Worker), into the lives of thousands of children who experienced similar stories. Margaret starts to spend months away from her family and young children interviewing these people in Australia and trying to track down their roots. In doing so, the detail of these stories starts to take its toll on her health and life in general but she carries on regardless in what becomes a touching story of human longing and the search for meaning in life through history, identity and family.

I should also mention that it was brilliant to see Hugo "Mr Anderson" Weaving playing such a loveable character. His portrayal of Jack was touching, funny, heartbreaking and honest and made me want to give him a hug every time he was on screen. His relationship with his newly discovered English sister and their search for their mother is one of the most endearing parts of the film. And he comes to Margaret's rescue when people take a severe disliking to her. What a guy!

I was fortunate to attend the Q&A which followed the screening and hear Director Jim Loach's opinion on its conception and the whole process. As he told us, there were many ways this film could have gone. There are of course thousands of stories to be told by those on the boats, many of those violent and horrific. 

Loach chose a different, more subtle and completely beautiful approach. It's not overly dramatic. There are heartbreaking moments, scary moments when angry people start to threaten Margaret and tearjerking moments of pure joy at the reunions Margaret helps to arrange. But it remains personal. We are told snippets of the different people she meets but only snippets. The most poignant moment for me was when Margaret finally goes to the place the children were - for want of a better word - raised. All the snippets she has been told overwhelm her understandably and it's heart-wrenching to see. She feels their pain and wants to do so much for them but knows that there is a limit to what she can do.

That's where the film gets its brilliance. There are no easy fixes, no happy endings. The childhoods these people had cannot be undone. And the mass deportations happened for such a long period of time, that as Loach explained - no one person can be held accountable. It was only in the last 3 years that the Australian and British governments finally acknowledged what happened and apologised for it. And this all started over 20 years ago.

All Margaret can try to do is reunite them with their surviving relatives - and for many of them it will now be too late.

Loach also added that he invited the Pope to the original screening in Italy - but was not surprised that he was a no show, given the way the film highlights horrific acts done by the "brothers" who were in charge of the care of these children. More appaling still is that none of them have been punished for their acts as many (Loach informed us) were deemed unfit to stand trial due to age/illness.

The film is brilliant, beautiful and honest. Go and see it.

5 out of 5 FOBLES!!!

LE xx

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