An interview with Jim Loach, the director of Oranges and Sunshine

12 June 2011
Oranges and Sunshine director Jim Loach

Oranges and Sunshine director Jim Loach

Over 130,000 children were deported from the UK as part of various Child Migration Schemes. It is estimated that Australia received 7,000 children between 1912 and 1970. Many of these children were sent without the consent or knowledge of their parents. Once in Australia the children were used for cheap labour and many were abused.

In 1986 an English social worker named Margaret Humphreys discovered and then exposed the scheme despite immense pressure from very powerful groups who had a vested interest in it being kept quite. The new Australian/UK co-production Oranges and Sunshine, by director Jim Loach, tells Margaret’s story (who is still working to reunited lost family members).

This interview was recorded on Friday 27 May 2011 and then played on Film Buff’s Forecast (Triple R, 3RRR 102.7FM) on Saturday 11 June 2011.

Download link (running time = 13:47)

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Film review – Oranges and Sunshine (2010)

7 June 2011
Oranges and Sunshine: Margaret Humphreys (Emily Watson)

Margaret Humphreys (Emily Watson)

It must be challenging to make a film that spreads awareness about an important issue while still adhering to the traditional cinematic narrative conventions that are necessary to maintain dramatic interest. In Oranges and Sunshine, a UK/Australia co-production, director Jim Loach and writer Rona Munro get the balance right. The issue they depict is the shameful deportation of an estimated 7000 children from the UK to Australia from 1912 to 1970. The children were often sent without the consent or knowledge of their parents. As one of the former child migrant characters says, they were promised oranges and sunshine, but once in Australia they were used for cheap labour and many were abused.

Instead of being set during the 1940s or 1950s, when the majority of the child migration occurred, Oranges and Sunshine is set during the late 1980s and follows the work done by English social worker Margaret Humphreys, played by Emily Watson in the film. Margaret’s investigation into the scheme, while she worked at reuniting lost family members, provides a perfect narrative structure for the audience to learn about what happened at the same time that she does. We share not only her furious disbelief at the exploitation and injustice, but also her drive to find out more.

Oranges and Sunshine: Jack (Hugo Weaving) and Margaret Humphreys (Emily Watson)

Jack (Hugo Weaving) and Margaret (Emily Watson)

Loach’s restrained direction and excellent casting allows the film to express how the scheme affected people’s lives without it ever becoming melodramatic or sentimental. The film is understated without ever being obtuse so that the audience gets an impression of the harm done to many of the children without it being unnecessarily laboured. The main two former child migrant characters whom Margaret works with are both men of a similar age; Jack played by Hugo Weaving and Len played by David Wenham. While loosely based on real people Jack and Len are composite characters used to represent two of the broadly different types of responses Margaret encountered. Both have damaged souls, but while Jack is quiet and fragile, Len is aggressively defensive. As the three leads Watson, Weaving and Wenham are uniformly excellent, but in one of Weaving’s key scenes he delivers what is possibly his finest performance to date.

Towards the end of Oranges and Sunshine Margaret warns Len not to expect some kind of cathartic moment that will neatly resolve or vindicate his experiences. This echoes the sentiments of the real life Margaret Humphreys who regards her work in finding missing family members and campaigning for an enquiry as simply part of her on-going day job. To the credit of the film, it doesn’t undermine Margaret’s sentiments by concluding with a traditional moment of narrative closure, and yet it does provide a climatic final scene that validates Margaret’s work up until that point. It’s a deft touch to provide a scene that is so dramatically satisfying without betraying the overall idea that the story is not done yet.

Oranges and Sunshine: Margaret Humphreys (Emily Watson) and Len (David Wenham)

Margaret (Emily Watson) and Len (David Wenham)

With Oranges and Sunshine Jim Loach has announced himself a distinctive cinematic voice who is able to handle complex and difficult subject matter with sensitivity and skill. His film functions as both entertainment and as a piece of social awareness that goes beyond the confines of the cinema. Perhaps most impressive is that in an era where popular culture is rediscovering and reinterpreting so many superhero narratives, Oranges and Sunshine highlights the work of a real life hero. Margaret Humphreys may not have superpowers but amid all the cynicism and feelings of powerlessness in the world, her courage and determination against a great injustice is truly inspiring.

Thomas Caldwell, 2011

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Film review – The Wolfman (2010)

9 February 2010

Lawrence Talbot (Benicio del Toro)

Abandoned by its original director and with its release date pushed back several times before finally being unleashed on audiences, The Wolfman arrives with very low expectations that it meets with gusto. A loose remake of the 1941 Universal monster film The Wolf Man, this new incarnation of the classic werewolf story initially looks like an enticing blend of the original film, Hammer Horror films and Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow. However, it very quickly becomes apparent that the The Wolfman fails to capture any of the magic or thrills that this would suggest.

Set in 1891 Lawrence Talbot, played by Benicio del Toro, returns home to Blackmoor in England after the death of his brother. The audience knows a werewolf got his brother, many of the film’s characters know that a werewolf got him and yet the film takes a painfully long time to arrive at the point where it is ‘revealed’ that a werewolf is to blame. By that point Talbot has been bitten and is starting to notice that his body is changing.

The Wolfman demonstrates what truly bad writing really is. Del Toro’s uncharacteristically soap-opera acting style doesn’t help the horribly trite dialogue and Anthony Hopkins, as Talbot’s father, certainly doesn’t help either by sounding bored beyond comprehension throughout the entire film. Emily Blunt as Talbot’s brother’s fiancé and Hugo Weaving as a Scotland Yard policeman do a little better but only just.

The poor pacing, blatantly obvious narrative signposting and over-reliance on false scares generated by sudden sounds and movements, removes any chance of The Wolfman actually being frightening. The gore is not gruesome enough to be shocking and not over-the-top enough to be fun schlock. It’s a terribly serious film and as a result very dull. One minor point of interest is the representation of a psychiatrist as a mad scientist character since it would be interesting to find out if the filmmakers actually intended on depicting the hysterical religious fanatic characters as being right all along while the scientific community appear as villainous fools.

The Wolfman contains elements that evoke The Crow (long roof top chase), the various King Kong films (creature is brought to a populated city where it goes wild) and Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 version of Dracula (romance doomed by one of them being a murderous monster). It is a damning comparison in every case and even the supposedly state-of-the-art transformation sequences fall seriously short of the effects used in John Landis’s 1981 film An American Werewolf in London. On the plus side there are a few unintentional giggles to be had over the fact that once transformed into the werewolf, Talbot looks and sounds a lot like Chewbacca.

1-star

© Thomas Caldwell, 2010

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Film review – Last Ride (2009)

4 July 2009
Kev (Hugo Weaving)

Kev (Hugo Weaving)

Very earlier in Last Ride it becomes clear that Kev (Hugo Weaving) and his son Chook (new comer Tom Russell) are on the run. This new Australian film explores the difficult father/son relationship between a young boy and his unpredictably violent father as they travel cross-country to avoid the law catching up with them.  Unfortunately this mildly gritty film doesn’t work as either a drama or a thriller.  It lacks dramatic tension as soon as it becomes obvious that the main structure of the film consists of contrasting scenes of Kev being a good father with scenes of Kev being a bit of a bastard. Also, revelations later in the film about the nature of what happened to make Kev and Chook go on the run dilute any tension.

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Film review – The Tender Hook (2008)

7 October 2008

Set during Sydney’s Jazz Age, The Tender Hook infuses the look and doomed love-triangle storyline of a classical Hollywood film noir with a distinctively Australian edge. Hugo Weaving (V for Vendetta, The Matrix) is McHeath, a shady business man/boxing promoter who is married to Iris, the film’s enigmatic femme fatale played by Rose Byrne (28 Weeks Later, Sunshine). McHeath takes an interest in Art, an up-and-coming boxer, played by Matthew Le Nevez (Peaches, Garage Days). Iris is drawn to Art as she becomes increasingly repelled by McHeath’s tendency for violence.

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