PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Reviews

'Oranges and Sunshine': A Muted Telling of a Tragic Episode in History

If good intentions were all it took to make a great film, Oranges and Sunshine would be up there in the cinematic pantheon next to Casablanca and Citizen Kane.


Oranges and Sunshine

Director: Jim Loach
Cast: Emily Watson, Hugo Weaving, David Wenham, Richard Dillane
Distributor: New Video
Studio: Sixteen Films, Seesaw Films
Release date: 2012-06-26

If good intentions were all it took to make a great film, Oranges and Sunshine would be up there in the cinematic pantheon next to Casablanca and Citizen Kane. Unfortunately, despite the historic importance of its subject and excellent performances by Emily Watson, Hugo Weaving, and David Wenham, it feels more like a made-for-television movie than a feature film. Thanks to the miracle of home video, however, you can now watch Oranges and Sunshine in the fitting setting of your television screen.

The story of Oranges and Sunshine centers on an astonishing historical fact: after World War II, over 130,000 British children from "unsuitable" homes were deported to Australia, without their parents' permission, ostensibly to enjoy a healthful life full of oranges and sunshine and, presumably, good moral character. Instead, most were raised in group homes where they were sexually abused, deprived of education, and forced into hard labor. Many of the deported children were told their parents were dead, while many parents were told their children had been adopted; given the distances involved and the difficulties of communication and travel at the time, all parties had little choice but to accept what they were told and do the best they could under the circumstances.

This episode of history remained largely unknown until a British social worker named Margaret Humphreys (played by Emily Watson) was approached, in 1986, by a woman asking for help in tracing her parents. At first Humphreys does not believe the woman's story of hundreds of unaccompanied children being put on a boat to Australia, but after hearing a second, similar story, she decides to investigate. Her investigation rapidly becomes a crusade, with the support of her husband (Richard Dillane), and she makes it her mission not only to unite as many of the surviving children as possible with their remaining relatives, but also to uncover the truth about who was responsible and how so massive an operation could have been carried out with so little public oversight.

The reality of this story, as related in Humphrey's book Empty Cradles, is absolutely heart-wrenching. It's odd, therefore, that Oranges and Sunshine feels so perfunctory and distanced, as if director Jim Loach and screenwriter Rona Munro were afraid that the audience couldn't handle the full horror of the story were it developed in any sort of a dramatic fashion. The pace feels all wrong as well: we are rushed from one event to the next, as if the dramatic structure were composed of evenly-spaced dominoes to be knocked over in rapid, regular succession. Even the pleasure of seeing Humphreys unravel the mystery of the deportations is largely denied us—instead, we are presented with a series of scenes, each of which contains one vital piece of information, and which lead in a direct and linear fashion to a conclusion, with none of the fumbling and wrong turns and messiness of real life.

It's not an entirely smooth journey, of course, just one in which the obstacles that appear are easily and predictably overcome. People don't want to talk to Humphreys, then they do. She has two breakdowns, but quickly recovers. One of the survivors first presents himself as obnoxious and disruptive, but of course he and Humphreys come to an understanding. Humphreys doesn't want to visit the worst children's home of them all, Bindoon, then she relents and allows one of the children raised there (David Wenham) to take her there.

I admire the restraint of Oranges and Sunshine, which avoids sensationalizing the events of its story. The problem is that this very restraint soon becomes predictable, to the point where you can predict exactly where the recalled memories will stop, and also where each scene will end, as the story moves relentlessly forward. Denson Baker's cinematography has a muted tone, as well, as if both Britain and Australia were beset by a dull brown haze obscuring the vitality of everyone and everything.

For all the skill that went in to making Oranges and Sunshine, nothing can compare with the archival footage of the deported children, which brings home the horror of it all: beautiful, happy children treated as if they had no value, as if they were a mere inconvenience to be disposed of as those of higher social station saw fit. It's a shame the fictional aspects of this film don't have the same dramatic power.

The DVD of Oranges and Sunshine includes three extras: a making-of featurette (13 min.), interviews with Emily Watson, Hugo Weaving, David Wenham, Jim Loach, and Rona Munro (25 min. total), and the theatrical trailer.

6

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.

Film

In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.

Music

The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.

Television

The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.

Music

The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller
Music

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.

Music

When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.

Music

20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.

Music

The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.

Books

Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.

Music

Kimm Rogers' "Lie" Is an Unapologetically Political Tune (premiere)

San Diego's Kimm Rogers taps into frustration with truth-masking on "Lie". "What I found most frustrating was that no one would utter the word 'lie'."

Music

50 Years Ago B.B. King's 'Indianola Mississippi Seeds' Retooled R&B

B.B. King's passion for bringing the blues to a wider audience is in full flower on the landmark album, Indianola Mississippi Seeds.

Film

Filmmaker Marlon Riggs Knew That Silence = Death

In turning the camera on himself, even in his most vulnerable moments as a sick and dying man, filmmaker and activist Marlon Riggs demonstrated the futility of divorcing the personal from the political. These films are available now on OVID TV.

Film

The Human Animal in Natural Labitat: A Brief Study of the Outcast

The secluded island trope in films such as Cast Away and television shows such as Lost gives culture a chance to examine and explain the human animal in pristine, lab like, habitat conditions. Here is what we discover about Homo sapiens.

Music

Bad Wires Release a Monster of a Debut with 'Politics of Attraction'

Power trio Bad Wires' debut Politics of Attraction is a mix of punk attitude, 1990s New York City noise, and more than a dollop of metal.

Music

'Waiting Out the Storm' with Jeremy Ivey

On Waiting Out the Storm, Jeremy Ivey apologizes for present society's destruction of the environment and wonders if racism still exists in the future and whether people still get high and have mental health issues.

Music

Matt Berninger Takes the Mic Solo on 'Serpentine Prison'

Serpentine Prison gives the National's baritone crooner Matt Berninger a chance to shine in the spotlight, even if it doesn't push him into totally new territory.

Music

MetalMatters: The Best New Heavy Metal Albums of September 2020

Oceans of Slumber thrive with their progressive doom, grind legends Napalm Death make an explosive return, and Anna von Hausswolff's ambient record are just some of September's highlights.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.