Jim Loach’s Debut Film Deals With Child Abuse

The first feature film by Jim Loach looks at the true story of the deportation of thousands of children from Britain to Australia and the abuse they suffered. The director said he sees it as a tale of survival and the indomitable human spirit.  Loach, English director Ken Loach’s son, said that he was fascinated by the woman who uncovered the scandal and is at the center of the movie: a social worker who worked doggedly to reunite families and bring authorities to account. He became fascinated by the personalities of the former child migrants, some of whom he met, and questions of identity.

Ultimately, he felt the story needed to be told.

“The story itself was shocking and appalling and amazing,” Loach said at the Rome film festival, where “Oranges and Sunshine” was presented. “We couldn’t believe that it had happened and we were amazed that so little had been said about it.”

Under the program, between 1920 to 1960s, an estimated 150,000 British children were sent to Australia and other distant colonies. The program was intended to ease pressure on British social services and provide the children with a fresh start (“oranges and sunshine”), but many of them ended up in institutions where they were physically and sexually abused, or were sent to work as farm laborers.

Both Australia and Britain have apologized recently for the child migrant program.

Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said this year that he sorry for the “shameful” and “misguided” program. In Australia, Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd called the caretakers in Australia “a ring of pedophiles” as he apologized last year for his country’s role in the scheme.

In the movie, the story is told through the eyes of social worker Margaret Humphreys, played my Emily Watson, the Oscar-nominated British actress.

Humphreys almost stumbles across the story.

On one night in Nottingham, she is approached by a woman who says she was put on a boat to Australia when she was a little girl in a children’s home. She wants to find her true identity. From that moment on, Humphreys discovers hundreds of cases, hearing about the horrific abuse and hardship the children, now adults, lived through. She travels to Australia and confronts authorities, at the detriment of her own personal life and health.

“She was battling to overcome the odds,” said Loach. “For us it was a survivor’s story. It was about the human spirit.”

Watson told reporters in Rome this week that, as she was reading the script, she became “emotionally involved by the end of page 2.”

Loach met with Humphreys, who’s written a book about the case, and with several former child migrants. As he heard about their “utterly compelling and shocking” stories, he started combining different aspects of their personalities to form the characters in the movie.

He said his father has watched “Oranges and Sunshine” and liked it. He also helped with the script and in the cutting room.

Speaking of his father’s influence, Loach said that growing up he was always encouraged to have an inquisitive mind and search out stories, especially ones “that were inherently contradictory and dramatic and important to be told.”

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