by Camillo de Marco
- As a worthy successor to his father Ken, Jim Loach looks at a shocking event that claimed victim to 30,000 British children exiled to Australia. An investigative and critical debut feature
It must not be easy to carry his surname, but Jim Loach, with a vast experience in TV, came to his feature debut without any complexes towards his father Ken. Aiming straight at the exploration of a complex issue, which he himself called "the nature of identity and what it is that makes us who we are".
The story told in Oranges and Sunshine [+see also:
interview: Jim Loach
film profile] is that of Margaret Humphreys, a social worker from Nottingham who brings to light one of the most horrifying civil scandals of recent times: the deportation from the UK to Australia of over 30,000 orphans or indigent children, perpetrated by the English government from the 1930s to the 1970s to offer a young labour force.
Based on Humphreys’ book Empty Cradles, Loach and screenwriter Rona Munro (Ladybird, Ladybird) begin the film in 1986, when Margaret (Emily Watson) finds out of the government programme that shipped children overseas, where they weren’t even enrolled in schools, were forced to work and were subjected to all imaginable types of physical and psychological abuse in situations deprived of any affection.
The brave social worker, working alone against the world, came into contact with thousands of people who were told their parents died. She reunited numerous families and attracted the world’s attention to a horrible situation for which in 2009 the Australian Labour Prime Minister Kevin Rudd officially apologized, followed in 2010 by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
Undecided in the beginning whether to opt for a documentary approach or a dramatization of the complex events, Loach chose to tells the stories of these "invisible" children through the eyes of the social worker, with the gradual discovery of the truth through her investigations. In the second part, he focuses on the involvement of the Catholic Church, which ran the Australian orphanages, touching upon the sadly topical issue of paedophilia as well.
In 1994, in Ladybird Ladybird, Ken Loach examined, without any demagogy, parental responsibility on the one hand and the violence of the bureaucracy of social services on the other. In Oranges and Sunshine there is no doubt who is responsible for the abuse.
(Translated from Italian)