Check out the new trailer for Oranges and Sunshine (below), the first film from director Jim Loach–son of Ken Loach. Cohen Media will release the film, which has already opened in the UK, from producers Camilla Bray, Iain Canning and Emile Sherman of The King’s Speech, into the award season fray in October (reviews here). Emily Watson (Breaking the Waves) stars in this true story, adapted by Rona Munro from the memoir Empty Cradles by Nottingham social worker Margaret Humphreys. In the 80s she discovered that in the 50s and 60s the UK deported thousands of abandoned children, as young as four, to abusive work homes in Australia. She challenged the authorities in order to expose this miscarriage of justice and reunite thousands of families.
“Getting a U.S. release is especially unusual for a film like this,” says Watson on the phone from the Mexico set of Alejandro Monteverde’s Little Boy. Loach is “a chip off the old block,” adds the actress. “He’s actor-friendly, performance-based, simple.”
Humphreys stumbled across this story by accident, says Watson, “when a woman who grew up in Australia but remembers England wanted to know who her parents were. She was put on a boat and sent to the other side of the world, along with hundreds of thousands of children. It was at a time when children in care were born of unmarried mothers, in orphanages; they were a burden on the state, while other countries wanted nice white kids to boost their population. When they got there they ended up in children’s homes full of appalling abuse, they were terrible places. These kids lost their identities twice. They didn’t know who their parents were. They had horrific childhoods.”
Humphreys met resistance from the government and charities. “It wasn’t a massive secret,” says Watson. “No one cared. Uncovering it became her life’s work, reuniting children with where they came from, and with their parents. It was painstaking, there was no paper trail. She put an ad in the Sydney Herald and got hundreds of thousands of letters begging for help.”
Next up for Watson is Steven Spielberg’s War Horse; she bookends the story as the mother of a son who leaves her behind on the farm when he goes off to war. The London stage play made her cry so hard, at eight months pregnant, that she didn’t think she’d last it through, she says: “It’s the combination of horses and war.”