Sunday, 1 May 2011

Watched - No 11 - Oranges & Sunshine (Jim Loach,2010) - trailer
Following in the formidable and decades spanning footprint of his father Ken, Jim Loach has directed his first film,Oranges and Sunshine. After abandoning a proposed career in journalism and spending the last decade directing for television Loach junior has made the transition to the big screen to tackle a subject that wouldn't seem out of place in his illustrious father's distinguished CV. This true life tale recounts the story of Nottingham social worker Margaret Humphreys' dogged fight to reunite estranged family members after a forced relocation scheme that sent thousands of underprivileged children from the UK to live in Australia and Canada came to light in the mid 80s.

The always excellent Emily Watson takes the lead role as Humphreys, whose perserverance and sense of moral outrage led her to establish an ongoing campaign that brought the issue worldwide attention. Promised 'oranges and sunshine', many of the children, some wrongly told that their parents were dead, instead found hard labour, emotional and physical cruelty, and in the worst scenarios sexual abuse at the hands of priests. With strong supporting roles for Hugo Weaving and David Wenham, and shot on location in the UK and Australia, Oranges and Sunshine features impressive performances from the cast and needs little embellishment in terms of narrative drama, but is a solid rather than truly memorable film. Loach's direction is, however, fittingly understated, never taking the attention away from the story, but at times the script itself is too expository, somewhat diminishing the emotional power of the individual stories of the now adult victims of the morally and ethically abhorrent scheme. The film is at its strongest when the over-earnest dialogue is subjugated in favour of imagery and moments of silence. Weaving's quietly spoken and slightly unkempt Jack, with his weather-beaten, furrowed brow and Wenham's Len, stand-offish, uptight and intense, say more with their appearance about their troubled lives than words ever could. In the films most devastating and emotionally charged scene, a visit by Len and Margaret to see the priests at the heart of some of the most damning accusations of abuse, sees their mere presence leaving the men of God literally speechless, damned by their silence.

With the focus inevitably mainly on Humphreys herself (the film is based on her own written recollections of the period), and on the personal sacrifices she made along the way that threatened her own family life, the full impact of lives broken, derailed and needlessly altered doesn't carry as much weight as it could.Loach's film has its heart most definitely in the right place, but ultimately feels a little too worthy, whilst having the look of a glorified television drama rather than a fully fledged cinematic experience. There's no denying the fine work done by Humphreys and any exposure of scandalous activity is always to be encouraged and deserves to be noted in itself, but overall Oranges and Sunshine felt unsatisfactory and run of the mill .Philip Noyce's true life tale of three aboriginee girls escaping from forced servitude and traversing the inhospitable Australian landscape, Rabbit-Proof Fence (2002), another tale of shameful colonial behaviour, treads a similar path to Loach's movie but is superior in its marrying of historic incident and poetic imagery to create a lasting, powerful emotional response.

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