Superb British film on a big hushed subject. Oranges and Sunshine is about Margaret Humphreys (Emily Watson), a 1980’s social worker, who uncovered a shocking government secret. This heartrending drama concerns the child orphans in post-World War II Great Britain and their forced deportation to Australia where they were made to work at missionaries, with boys working under unsavory priests. In the crusading lead role, Watson (the powerfully emotive actress of “Breaking the Waves” and “Punch-Drunk Love”) undertakes a strong woman’s role of someone who made a monumental difference with reuniting thousands with their lost families and usurping the injustice to media coverage. This is by the producers of “The King’s Speech” but it is a stronger and more significant film.
Many powerful, socially infuriating stories come and go with such high frequency are all too easily forgotten. There are just too many sad stories in this world and, helplessly, we become sadly overburdened. In this case, I don’t think I will ever forget “Oranges” because of David Wenhem (“Public Enemies,” “Lord of the Rings: Return of the King”) who plays Len, a victim who survived an abusive childhood at the hands of cravenly priests and chiseled his own success in adulthood. We often think of molested children as ones who grow up and become timid and hindered with weakened ambition in the world.
The degrees and depths of Wenhem’s work turns startling, revelatory, and sad. More than that, you come to respect a character that you initially feared. With Len, he is a strongly independent and tenacious man whose weakness is irritability with others, ready to push others away. He is cross with Margaret before finally asking her to help him with finding his family, and offers her a compensatory blank check which she refuses. She carries on kindly without a bribe. Their culmination with each other is a visit and confrontation with the Australian priests who did wrong. Lem is such a tough guy that he is incapable of crying, and hasn’t done so since 8-years old.
Several other male and female victims are given screen time with full-bodied back stories. Hugo Weaving of “The Matrix” is among the cast, and here as an actor demonstrates that he can expand his career choices from this point on because of this affecting performance. Everybody has a touching story here, but when keeps the film burning with tension are the death threats that Margaret must endure. She is perceived as anti-Britain. Perceived as a loony tunes rabble-rouser.
The film ends with a radio recording of British Prime Minister Gordon Brown in 2010 issuing a formal apology to all those affected decades before on behalf of the British Government. Don’t let the lousy title “Oranges and Sunshine” throw you off into believing this is minor stuff. See it.
105 Minutes. Rated R.
DRAMA / ACTORS SHOWCASE / FALL MOVIE
Film Cousins: “Pixote” (1981, Portuguese with English subtitles); “A Cry in the Dark” (1988); “Salaam Bombay” (1988, Hindi with English subtitles); “Mysterious Skin” (2005).