music friday: montara beach
what i watched last week

by request: oranges and sunshine (jim loach, 2010)

This was suggested by Karen Roth.

Emily Watson stars in the based-on-a-true story of Margaret Humphreys, an English social worker who uncovers a decades-long system of sending kids from the U.K. to Australia. Eventually it becomes clear that it couldn’t have happened without governmental approval.

Loach and screenwriter Rona Munro, working from Humphreys’ book, gradually let us see how this impacted the lives of the kids, now grown up, knowing nothing about their past … who were their parents, why were they given up for adoption (they weren’t, but the kids had no way of knowing), basically asking themselves, who am I? Humphreys begins connecting the kids with their mothers when possible, at least giving information if the mother has died. Watson does well, stalwart in her mission, even as it causes her personal trauma (she is diagnosed with PTSD).

Loach keeps things moving along … he effectively intersperses the stories of the grown-up deportees with Humphreys’ battles with the two governments. But two problems arise. One is that Loach seems to want to make a film that could play on public television. At times, the victims stop just short in the telling of their tales, hesitating, allowing the audience to fill in the blanks. This happens often, and is noticeable. You can’t help but wonder why Loach takes this approach; the effect is to smooth out some of the harshest experiences, which might work for gentlefolks in the audience, but which is a bit of a cheat for those telling their stories. Also, while Watson is good, her character is too central. Oranges and Sunshine is less a film about a government-backed outrage, and more about the intrepid fight of Margaret Humphreys. I don’t want to take this too far … the victims do get the time to tell their story. But the key figure is always Humphreys, and while her story is a good one and she deserves respect, I would have preferred to have Humphreys being the impetus for the story, while the deported children were the key. 7/10. As a companion piece, how about The Magdalene Sisters?