Review: Oranges and Sunshine (15)****

Jim (son of Ken) Loach switches from documentaries to features with this moving quasi biopic which examines the crusading work of Margaret Humphreys, a Nottinghamshire social worker in the 1980s who discovered that Britain had been deporting children to Australia for years.

Humphreys, played in the film by Emily Watson, stumbled on a shameful episode in modern British history and found that the practice had had massive emotional and psychological effects on its victims.

For victims they most definitely were. Tempted to Australia by promises of sunny weather and fruit to pick from the tree, many of the kids were separated from their parents after having been told that they were unloved or, worse, that their mothers were dead.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Packed off to the end of the world, many were used as little more than slaves. Some were physically and sexually abused. All bore the scars of isolation and lies told by not one but two governments that sought to shroud this practice in a fog of deception.

Watson is partnered in the film by Hugo Weaving and David Wenham. Weaving grieves for the mother he lost and barely remembers; Wenham shrugs off the skeletons in his closet as he accompanies Watson on her odyssey through Aussie red tape.

Two sequences stand out. Watson meets with Weaving to deliver some momentous news and is at pains to ensure the backdrop is perfect. “He will remember this day for the rest of his life,” she tells an observer. And she travels with Wenham to a remote Catholic home where, in a bizarre stand-off, she faces down the cold stares of nervous priests who for years have subjected boys to systematic abuse.

There is no mood of triumphalism at the heart of Oranges and Sunshine. Instead Loach paints a picture of a woman driven by a heartfelt desire to right decades of wrongs and to put an end to several lifetimes’ worth of questions.

The overwhelming feeling that remains is one of simmering anger, tempered by the knowledge that at least some of these discarded kids, now grown to adulthood and still suffering overwhelming feelings of abandonment, find the happy ending they have dreamed of all their lives.