Oranges and Sunshine (2010) Movie Review: It’s a Hard Knock Life

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Movie Review

By: Henry J. Fromage (Two Beers) –

It’s popularly known that Australia began its existence as an English territory as a penal colony, a way for England to sweep criminals and dissidents under a rug half a world away.


You don’t say…

You probably assume it stopped, because of course it did, right?  Well, it didn’t… if you were one of the 100,000 children from impoverished and troubled families who, for over a century, were shipped out of England to orphanages and “charity houses” in Australia (and other commonwealth nations), where they were all-too-often subjected to abuse and hard labor.  Oranges and Sunshine dramatizes the efforts of social worker Margaret Humphreys (Emily Watson) to shine a light on this shameful practice and help what children, now understandably damaged adults, she can locate to find the families, answers, and peace they’re looking for.

A Toast

Too often social justice films like this turn out to be decent and informative, but dry, failing to provoke an emotional response to material that reads like a textbook.  Oranges and Sunshine is not one of these films.  It’s devastating in ways that films about much more horrific atrocities often aren’t, by locating the beating heart of the matter.


Something Mola Ram is pretty good at, too.

Director Jim Loach clearly picked up some tricks from his dad, legendary social issues film maven Ken Loach.  He gets right into things, saving the slower character-building for after the big revelations, when we’re already thoroughly invested in these people’s plights, and populates the film with realistic human touches and moments that ensure your empathy.

The latter bit is also largely accomplished through the across-the-board natural, arresting performances from his highly capable cast.  Watson is a prim and proper, innately decent woman, but tenacious like a bulldog and tolerant of precisely zero bullshit.  She’s no Hollywood hero, though, but just a regular person trying to do what’s right.  She has her doubts, her fears, and her limits.  She feels like an entirely real person.

The film’s hers, but Hugo Weaving and David Wenham turn in opposing but equally affecting portrayals of the adult consequences of this childhood trauma.  Weaving, bearded and visibly cowed by life, is heart-breaking.  He’s tentative, struggling to articulate his pain, revealing the scared little boy that still resides within him.  Wenham, on the other hand, is defensive, aggressive even.  He’s a furious man, and driven to bury his past as far under his success as he can.  The strength, and that beating heart I referred to, of the film is Watson’s empathy for them both, and how she breaks through those exteriors by showing them how genuinely she cares, even if nobody else seemed to for over 30 years.

Beer Two

Like with his father, Jim Loach lets the story take precedence to the point that the filming of it seems like an afterthought.  He uses a lot of handheld camerawork, but that’s pretty much the extent of his style, which is better than the opposite of course.


Why in hell is everything blue?

Rona Munro’s script is nicely paced and written, but it can stray awful close to melodrama here and there, like when Watson hears “Ava Maria” and freaks out a bit on Christmas not long after hearing a story of sexual abuse.


Oranges and Sunshine is both a scathing portrayal of a terrible injustice and a perceptive look at how we process, contend with, and are shaped by trauma.


About Henry J. Fromage

Movieboozer is a humor website and drinking games are intended for entertainment purposes only, please drink responsibly.

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