Edith's Review of Oranges And Sunshine
Oranges And Sunshine(2011)
They Got the Sunshine, Anyway
When I was a child, I read a lot of L. M. Montgomery novels. While I don't think any of them were really characters, more sort of "people who got mentioned," this was still the first place I encountered the term "home girl." "Home child." (Alas, not "home boy.") Until today, I had always thought that they were not unlike Anne herself--children who were taken out of orphanages and given a place to live in exchange for working on a farm or in a house. And in a way, they were. However, it turns out that those children were more likely to have been deported out of British orphanages--often even though their parents were alive--and worked half to death. Some of them, like Anne, were cared for and loved and became truly adopted. Many were not. And this continued into the 1970s. Vexingly, British children were sent to Australia, Canada, South Africa, while the Jewish children of Europe were basically told they weren't worth saving.
Margaret Humphreys (Emily Watson) was a social worker in Nottingham in the 1980s. One day, a woman came up to her and said that she had been deported to Australia as a child, that she knew almost nothing about her past, and that she was hoping to find what had happened to her family and who she really was. At first, she didn't believe it. I mean, would you? This didn't sound legal, much less something that would happen to all those people, as the woman claimed. All those children. However, the more Margaret digs, the more awful the true story is shown to be. In all, some seven thousand of them were sent to Australia. Most of them had living parents. Most of them were sent to lives of brutality and neglect. Margaret now begins to fight the governments of two countries for the records. She is accused of lying; she receives death threats. Not all the reunions are happy ones; while Jack (Hugo Weaving) is happily reunited with his sister, his mother died a year before they tracked her down.
On the one hand, I absolutely don't believe that all biological parents are entitled to raise their own children. Some people shouldn't be allowed anywhere near children, much less allowed to raise them. On the other hand, this was still wrong. Many of the parents were experiencing what they thought would only be a brief setback, and their children ended up lost to them forever. Even if the parents weren't suitable, the way this happened was awful. The children were told that their parents were dead. The parents were told that their children had been adopted by loving families. The children were often told that they had to work to pay for their keep. Many of the children were abused and even raped. Surely what happened to those children was exactly what they were supposedly being protected from by the migration scheme in the first place. How is forcing a child to lift stones the size of its own torso the best thing for it?
I do like that the movie shows us several different possible outcomes of finally tracing your roots. In addition to Jack's dead mother, there is Len (David Wenham), who finds his mother but who doesn't immediately have a sunny relationship with her. There are also the two women whose names I missed who are at first hesitant with one another but who are delighted to have finally found one another. The happiest moment in their lives comes when they are able to acknowledge one another and agree that it makes them feel whole. One of the hazards of closed adoption--and surely this is an extreme example of those issues--is the idealized view people get of their lost loved ones. They think that all it will take is seeing the person again, and everything will be sunny and joyous. All issues will be resolved, and everything will be right again. That isn't true, and even when they work out, there is still a lot of pain to process. Even the best-off of these children bear the scars of their pasts.
The movie ends with Gordon Brown's formal and official apology on the behalf of the British government for what these children went through. It was thought to be for the best, of course, but even in those cases where it might well have been, it still wasn't really legal. Australia had apologized a few months earlier, in 2009. However, the official statement from the Canadian government, which came from the Immigration Minister, is that Canada will not apologize. This is, according to that statement, because there is "limited public interest." In other words, they're not apologizing because not enough people care. Not because it was right; the Canadian government seems to acknowledge that it wasn't. But there aren't enough people pushing for an official apology, so there won't be one. Maybe if more people had seen this movie--or maybe if there were a Canadian version--that would change. But of course, no one cared about the children sent to Australia until Margaret Humphreys started making an issue out of it, either.