I am very pleased to have had the chance to see Jim Lynch’s moving and illuminating debut film Oranges and Sunshine over the weekend. Emily Watson was brilliant as social worker Margaret Humphreys. Humphreys worked indefatigably to expose the scandal of the forced migration of thousands of children from the UK to Australia. With virtually no help she reunited families, and brought public awareness of a terrible miscarriage of justice that carried on for decades. The children were told their mothers had died, a blatant lie in a huge proportion of cases, and were promised a new life of oranges and sunshine. Instead they faced year after year of dreadful institutions, little or no education and hard labour. Many experienced systematic and horrific abuse. Humphreys’ attempts to get the UK and Australian governments and the numerous other agencies connected to the deportation and abuse to acknowledge the wrong met with one brick wall after another. The cover-ups went on for years, and Humphreys found herself the subject of media attack and terrifying threats. The toll on her mental health and her family life was appalling. The film shows us the odd scene of joyous family re-unification, but far more often we see Humphreys witnessing harrowing anguish as adults explore their lost childhoods. We find out that their parents too were cheated, told that their children had been happily adopted in the UK. A note at the end of the film tells us that even now, twenty-five years after she started to uncover the situation, Humphreys continues to try to bring relatives together, and that it was only in 2009 and 2010 that the UK and Australian governments finally issued apologies for the child migration scheme that devastated so many lives.
The Guardian carried an excellent article about Humphreys a couple of weeks ago.
I thought this film was terrific, and very important – definitely worth catching in the cinema if you can. For those of you who can’t, hopefully it will be available on DVD before too long.