9 August 2011

Jim Loach's Oranges and Sunshine

Ken Loach is a major British director, and his movies have frequently been strong attacks on social problems often perceived as stemming from governmental policies, from the television Play for Today Cathy Come Home (homelessness) through Kes (state education in a working-class community), Family Life (conventional psychiatry), Ladybird, Ladybird (the Social Services), and The Navigators (New Labour's privatization of the public sector). Now, Ken Loach's son Jim has made his first feature film, which involves abuse by British governments in the recent past.

Oranges and Sunshine is the ironic title of this partly fictionalized story, and alludes to a 'promise' made to British children in home care that the British government deported, often to be abused sexually and by other violent physical means. Over a large number of years, perhaps as many as 150,000 of these children were deported to different Commonwealth countries as a source of labour, although the movie concentrates on Nottingham social worker Margaret Humphrey's discovery of a number of children sent to live permanently in Australia between the 1940s and 1970.

Initially an Austalian woman approached Humphreys (played remarkably well by Emily Watson) because she was seeking to find out about her parents. The movie charts the rapid increase in Humphreys's knowledge as she is given the two-year task of unearthing the facts about this abuse. A particularly poignant moment is when Len (played by David Wenham - a brilliant foil to Watson) shows Margaret the Christian Brothers' Keaney College in Bindoon, which he (along with other children) had built brick by brick, and where many were otherwise abused. Much time is spent in detective work trying to track down the parents of a number of children.

The former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown made a public apology for past governmental abuse in February 2011.

One thing I hated about the movie: the Cat Stevens song. Perhaps Humphreys would have been unaware of Stevens's (or rather Yusuf Islam's) comments on the Rushdie fatwa, but many of us are aware of them.

(Some scenes take place in Nottingham, and the streets of Sneinton to the south-east of Sneinton Boulevard, the former Sneinton Market buildings, and William Reid Dick's Welcome statue inside the Council House are clearly recognizable.)

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