On The Edge Films

Cinematic Thoughts for Cinematic Minds

Film School: Oranges and Sunshine

2012/ UK, Australia

Director: Jim Loach

Starring: Emily Watson, Hugo Weaving, David Wenham, Richard Dillane, Federay Holmes, Stuart Wolfendon

Oranges and Sunshine is not just a fantastic thought provoking film but a story of history, based on the incredible true story “Empty Cradles” by Margaret Humphreys. This story tells us of one of the most significant, shocking, social scandals in history. The forced migration of British children is something of which will astound us all. This film raises a number of questions in regards to British history, the importance of attachment theory and the implications of child abuse. Oranges and Sunshine implores us to find inspiration with Emily Watson as she performs an admirable role as the compelling Margaret Humphreys, who puts aside her own safety and happiness with her family, to help thousands of people find their true identity. David Wenham also stars in this remarkable film as Len, a victim of this scandalous political event, who tells his story and overcomes his traumatic history with the help of Margaret Humphreys.

Oranges and Sunshine is directed with great sensitivity as it shows the psychological effect that not only child abuse has on people later in adulthood, but the effect that having no parents and no identity has too. It also demonstrates the devastating consequences that hearing these stories and helping others have on a person as an individual. The film begins in 1986 as Margaret Humphreys, a social worker from Nottingham, investigates a woman’s claim, that at the age of 4 she had been put on a boat and shipped to Australia, not knowing who her parents were or where she had come from or even who she was. Margaret at first dubious, soon discovered this was a tip of the iceberg as up to 150,000 children had been deported from Britain to a number of commonwealth countries, particularly Australia. The question was why? Why were they sent? Why all the secrecy? Why were their families lied to?

This film tells the remarkable power and strength of one woman who is a mother, a wife, a social worker, who is a woman that changed thousands of lives and challenged political authorities and brought worldwide attention to a miscarriage of justice. Many children were told their parents were dead, parents were told their children were dead or had been adopted. In fact these children were shipped from their homes to endure the horrendous life of no identity, no family and subjected to psychologically traumatic experiences of physical, emotional and sexual abuse. The parents of these children were not unfit parents, they were single mothers who did not have the financial support or were forced by their parents to adopt their child or even mothers who found a job as a source of income and placed their child in care temporarily. Margaret Humphreys from hearing this one unbelievable account led on to investigate these claims, searching for birth, marriage and death certificates, interviewing victims, researching history despite hitting a brick wall with the authorities, she found the strength, courage and motivation to help uncover the truth.

Margaret sacrifices her family, herself and their safety to help so many others. Her husband Merv played by Richard Dillane, her children Rachael (Molly Windsor) and Ben (Harvey Scrimshaw) are her life, yet she has to endure not only being separated from them as she travels around England, Ireland, Australia and more but she also has to tolerate herself and her family being threatened and lives being put in danger as a minority get anxious that the truth is going to be unveiled.
Oranges and Sunshine conveys, with such compassion and sensitivity, the horror that these children were subjected to. They were given no identity or a false identity and as well as suffering from this abuse, they suffered psychologically as they were deprived of their parents, their childhood and the attachment that every child requires according to Bowlby’s (1988) attachment theory. Bowlby (1988) proposes that specific infant care such as attachment is very important in personality development. This ethological theory recognises an emotional tie between the child and the caregiver as an evolved response, in order to survive attachment formations between the primary caregiver and the child develop, yet it is argued that if a problem occurs at one of the stages involved, a reciprocal relationship will not be formed or cognitive or social abilities will be affected. Consequently, the film illustrates the psychological impact on these adults as they are deprived from their childhood attachment. Throughout the film, Margaret meets these adults, and lets them tell their story, while doing so fighting for their basic human rights against governments and charities. They were forced to work for a pittance, be neglected and suffer abuse in homes such as the boys home at Bindoon run by the Christian Brothers.

For what some people may claim the film as being patchy in the attempt to include a number of stories, I argue that this is representative of Margaret Humphreys’ life in that as in the book she is listening to thousands of stories at the same time, she is helping thousands of people at the same time. As she describes in her book, Margaret has to engage with thousands of people and help them, sometimes individually, sometimes as a group. In the film, what may be perceived as “patchy” or “squeezing stories in” is actually portraying the vast nature of this piece of history and the vast number of people that she has chosen to help. Why shouldn’t all these people have their stories told? They all have a story to tell, so let them speak up.

These children were deported being promised oranges and sunshine, but instead they lost their identity and but never their hope. Margaret Humphreys spent 23 years fighting for their identity and their hope, defeating any obstacle that got in her way. She set up the Child Migrants Trust and was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia in March 1993. Margaret Humphreys finally got the Australian Government to finally accept responsibility for what they did and formally apologised to the “forgotten children” in November 2009 and the British government finally apologised in February 2010. I suggest that if you want to see a film that exposes the real British history, is an emotional rollercoaster and entices you to fully empathise, understand and admire then Oranges and Sunshine is for you. It is the truth unveiled and is remarkably well directed, well written and well performed.


-Becca Darbyshire


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