‘Oranges…’ exposes the outrageous practice of the English government forcefully deporting British children who were entrusted to the social system off to Australia as indentured slaves. This practice started in the 1880’s and culminated in the 1960’s, with the largest numbers of children between the ages of 5 and 13 being shipped in the 1940’s through 1960’s. What! They didn’t have enough convicts to populate their colony? They had to resort to children? I just don’t get the point of Australia even wanting slaves so weak due to their age and size. At age 15, they’re liberated — uneducated, inexperienced in anything but the horrors of sexual and physical abuse, often malnutrition and overall neglect — mostly at the hands of clerics, of course. I don’t get why either government would punish innocent children with this holocaust-like scenario, except the British did get rid of a population of potential foster children, a drain on the economy. These kids were not even offered for adoption in Australia.
Their experiences are so horrible that we only hear the now-adults recall them to social worker, Margaret Humphreys (Emily Watson), who just happened upon a couple of them who were searching for any family they may still have in England. Moved and outraged, she takes it upon herself to help as many of these people as she can find their families. Her boss allows her to do this full time. She also gets a lot of press which exposes these governments’ practice.
Wait a second! After both countries’ general populations learn of what was done in several talk shows and newspaper articles spotlighting Margaret, there’s not an investigation into who was responsible and if any of those people are still alive, no criminal charges? There’s no court case, no demand for reparations, no big noise? And poor Margaret, works alone, pre-computer availability, bouncing between both countries and being separated from her own family for large spans of time in order to find still-existing family members of these lost children, now adults? The book, upon which the screenplay is based, was written by Margaret herself and really only delves into Margaret’s overwhelming task and her emotional reaction to the horrors she uncovers. And it’s fine for what it intends to do — show Margaret suffering like a true empath along with the victims. Yes, this is Margaret’s story, and Emily Watson, as ever, does a fine job as the self-sacrificing social worker suffering with these victims, but unflinchingly plodding on in her research and reunions.
But I want to see the bigger picture. Since this is a true story, I would much prefer actual people blow the lid off this offense with worldwide attention to these crimes against humanity, and then make a film that truly exposes the full extent of both government’s sanction of these crimes. I want to see some real worldwide outrage. I want to see some heads roll, not just a polite, sedate, general apology from the present Prime Minister. I want to see a huge organization working to find family and financial and legal justice for these victims. Margaret is a true social worker who did and continues to do what she, on her own, can do. That should just be the beginning of this story.
Oranges and Sunshine
Director: Jim Loach
Writer: Rona Munro from the book by Margaret Humphreys
Cast: Emily Watson, Hugo Weaving, David Wenham, Tara Morice
Time: 105 min.
Opening October 28 at Embarcadero Cinema in San Francisco