Wednesday, October 19, 2011

“Oranges And Sunshine” – Movie Review


This week in my movie class, we had a weeknight bonus screening of the British drama “Oranges And Sunshine”, starring Emily Watson and Hugo Weaving.



When a British Social Worker learns that England spent decades forcing many of its poverty-stricken children to live in Australia, she investigates their cases to try to reunite them with their family – but after she confronts the government, church and various charities with this scandal, can they prevent her from continuing her mission?



In the mid-1980’s, Margaret Humphreys (Watson), a Social Worker located in Nottingham, England, was conducting group therapy sessions with adult clients who were adopted as children. In the course of her work, she becomes aware of the fact that during the 1940’s, ‘50’s and ‘60’s, there were quite a number of children whom the British government sent to live in Australia –without their parents’ accompaniment, knowledge or consent. Shortly after beginning to investigate the matter, it becomes apparent that this was an alarmingly common practice.

When word of Humphreys’ efforts to help these displaced British spread throughout Australia, thousands of adults contact her for assistance to either find their birth parents or their true identity or both. Interviewing many of the grown men who were sent to live in an orphanage run by Christian Brothers, they confess being subjected to years of mental, physical and sexual abuse by their caretakers throughout their childhood when they resided at the orphanage. As the number of Australians seeking her assistance grows, Humphreys’ activity is picked up by the media, who spread the news even further around the country.

Despite providing a vital humanitarian service and helping a great many people, Humphreys has stirred up an immense controversy by revealing this scandal. As a result of this, she winds up with reactions of anger and resentment from a wide variety of Australians – including anonymous death threats from people defending the exact same Christian Brotherhood responsible for running the orphanage. As both her safety and security become increasingly compromised, will Humphreys be able to survive and continue her work?



The movie “Oranges and Sunshine” is based on a book authored by Margaret Humphreys titled, “Empty Cradles. Both the book and the movie are in fact based on Humphreys’ real life experience uncovering this story and bringing it to the attention of the government, which made major news headlines throughout The United Kingdom. Unfortunately, “Oranges And Sunshine” suffers from something of a look and feel of a perfunctory “TV-movie-of-the-week” quality to it, replete with every possible cliché imaginable. Although a compelling, heartbreaking and shocking tale, it is told in something of a drab, dreary manner – an uninspired and unimaginative movie, not even the performance by Emily Watson could hope to save this film.

One of the chief problems I found with this movie was the rationale behind England’s deportation of its neediest children; the movie never really makes an attempt to explain why the British and Australian governments colluded with religious authorities and charities to commit this heinous act. Additionally, the characters of Humphreys and her husband are drawn rather broadly, making both of them out to be more saintly than heroic in their words and deeds; as an example, despite her many trips to Australia when she would abandon her own family for long periods of time, the husband never argued with her and the children barely voiced much if any objection.

Following the screening, Humphreys herself was interviewed by our instructor. As best I could tell, she appeared to have something of a lukewarm reaction to the movie version of her book, but conceded that it would be rather difficult to tell the same story in as much detail as it is in the book within the confines of a two hour movie. Among her concerns was the fact that “Oranges And Sunshine” seemed to focus more on the stories of the little boys while completely ignoring what happened to the girls who were also forced to migrate thousands of miles from their home and family. When asked why the government would take these children from their parents, she agreed with our instructor’s interpretation that it was likely a matter of pure economics – meaning that it would be considerably cheaper for England to have the kids taken care of by the Australians than to have them on public assistance in their own land. Her main regret about the whole incident regarding the children is that more of a judicial investigation on the matter was never done, but realizes that it is likely due to the fact that it would encounter too many obstacles from the governments, churches and charities. Humphries has dedicated her life to helping over 130,000 of these people and continues her work to this day.


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