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Oranges and Sunshine

Last night I took myself off to my local cinema - Waterman's, just around the corner from Kew Bridge. It was my first time there, and I must say, it wasn't exactly an environment conducive to sitting back and relaxing in front of the big screen. It's a large, somewhat Brutalist council building overlooking the Thames. Yet it seemed fairly popular. Maybe it had something to do with the Indian restaurant in the basement. As soon as I entered the building the spicy aromas hit me and the thought of skipping the film and opting for a korma instead. But I settled for the film. It is Jim Loach's directorial debut - he, the son of Ken, produced it under his father's production company, Sixteen Films. He also shares his father's social conscience. Oranges and Sunshine is the true story of how Margaret Humphreys, a Nottingham social worker played by the brilliant Emily Watson, stumbled across the covert mass deportation of children from the UK to rural Australia, from the late 19th century right up until the 1970s. Many of these children were told their mothers (and the film is exclusively concerned with the mother, maybe because many of them were forced to put children into children's homes because they were single and couldn't cope or their families wouldn't allow it) had died. The mothers who then tried to have their children returned were told they had been adopted. The truth is more wicked that that. These children were sent to more children's homes and orphanages and never adopted into families. Most of these 'homes' were run by religious organisations, such as the Christian Brothers, who systematically raped and battered the children in their care. Despite being children they were also forced to 'pay back' their upkeep by working to actually build some of these religious homes - every brick set in place by children. Margaret Humphreys becomes so involved, Nottingham Social Services makes it possible for her to devote herself to this cause, that she suffers post-traumatic stress syndrome. Her hair falls out, she becomes heavily depressed and weepy. One of the men who had been a child in one of these homes run by the Christian Brothers says to her 'you feel it for us, you do, because we can't'. It is a harrowing tale, realising that these adults then discovered, in many cases, that their parents had been alive all along. Margaret helps some of them reconnect with living, if elderly, parents. It is yet another shocking indictment of the history of how children in care are deemed non-entities, without any rights. As for the Church, well, it's not so shocking anymore. It is now a given that the Catholic Church is a deeply abusive one, largely because it is 'manned' with clergy who, themselves, have undoubtedly been abused - many nuns and priests have a decision made for them whilst young and they make a vow to this god to whom they have to remain loyal to until the day they die. Slice of anger, anyone? Of course, that does not excuse the treatment they have meted out to millions of children throughout the ages, or the endemic covering up by Church and State authorities. Ken Loach made his name with the groundbreaking look at homelessness in Cathy Come Home. Now his son looks set to do the same. Guardian review of Oranges and Sunshine here.

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