Oranges and Sunshine: movie review

Oranges and Sunshine Poster

This movie tells the the real life story of Margaret Humphreys who 'broke the story' of the organised migration of thousands of children from the UK to Australia from the beginning of the 20th century right up until the 1970s. 

Humphreys was a social worker with a heart to do the right thing and a nose for injustice and the movie is mostly about the way she set about reuniting the now grown-up children with their families and everything that followed, including dealing with the press and government.

Like many people who serve others, especially those who seem to be 'the only ones' working in an important cause, Margaret did suffer both burnout and depression, as well as having to deal with being a controversial figure. As stories of the child migrants' suffering came to light, several institutions (specifically the Christian Brothers) came under investigation and public opinion was divided.

I watched this film on DVD last night and found myself tearing up several times. You could see the anguish of children who had not only lost their parents, but had then dealt with even more loss as they were transported to the other side of the world and found themselves in what could only be described as child slavery - at least in several cases.

Hugo Weaving is, as usual, brilliant. He plays Jack, the lonely, struggling man who 'has an emptiness' inside him. "I think it can only be filled by my mother," he says. Sadly, he's just too late. His mother dies a year before Margaret is able to find her.

The loss of identity is a big issue in our broken world. Oranges and Sunshine showed just how devastating it can be to have grown up without knowing who you are or where you came from. To be unconnected and without a family in this world is a lonely road to travel. It reminded me of David Claydon, the subject of my book, Never Alone, who still, in his 80s doesn't know who his parents were, how old he is exactly or why he was in an orphanage in Palestine in the late 1930s.  He couldn't talk about his childhood without crying right up until his mid-50s. 

The other big issue from the film is of course, how to help others without killing yourself. Margaret is lucky enough to have an extremely supportive family, but there does come a point where she needs to work out the balance of looking after her own children while she looks after the children of others. 

It's a slow film but the performances are strong and the story and the themes are important.