A film that uncovers one of our country’s biggest secret scandals makes its way into local cinemas tomorrow: Oranges and Sunshine.
Aiming to pull on the heartstrings of all Australians, the Jim Loach film tells the story of a Nottingham social worker, Margaret Humphreys, who discovered that thousands of English children were taken from orphanages by reputable charities and shipped off to various Commonwealth countries, such as Australia.
They were told that their parents were dead and deals were done to boost the white populations of the British Empire.
Being promised a new life of “oranges and sunshine”, many of them were instead subject to horrific physical and sexual abuse after ending up in the care of the Christian Brothers.
Mothers who later came to the English orphanages to collect their children were told they had been adopted and no longer traceable. They were, in fact, sent half-way across the globe.
“When I first came across it, I was completely gobsmacked as most people are,” British-born Loach tells IF from his North London home.
“The actual story seemed incredible to me. I sat opposite Margaret in Nottingham about eight years ago and she would just sort of start to talk and I just couldn’t believe what I was hearing.”
A documentary and TV director by trade, Loach – son of famous director Ken – instantly realised the story was going to be his first feature film.
Based on Humphreys’ book Empty Cradles, the £3.6 million Australian/UK co-production is produced by Emile Sherman, Iain Canning and Camilla Bray.
The film, starring Emily Watson, Hugo Weaving and David Wenham, was shot in Nottingham and Adelaide (doubling as 1980s Perth).
“Although it had been out and all those people had been trying to tell those stories for a long, long time…it was just something that most people were completely ignorant of and it’s astonishing really considering the extent of the deportation of those kids,” says Weaving, before he flew to New Zealand to shoot The Hobbit.
“There are so many things that we don’t know about and it should continually remind you to question your governments and society you’re living in.”
The film opened in the UK in early April, and took £82,922 ($130,839) from 44 screens, in its opening weekend.
Distributor Cohen Media Group acquired the North American rights and it will open this fall.
The See-Saw Films/Sixteen Films co-production, distributed by Icon, can be seen in cinemas from tomorrow. The trailer can be seen here.
For more on the film, see the June/July issue of IF Magazine.