Based on the true story of the collusion between British and Australian governments to illegally ship tens of thousands of children from the UK to Australia for more than a century, well into the late 1960s, Oranges and Sunshine is thrillingly efficient filmmaking. That's not the "damning with faint praise" it might seem. Director Jim Loach, working from a lean script by Rona Munro, has crafted a film that breaks your heart and milks more than a few tears in telling what became of some of those children. At the film's center is Emily Watson's pitch-perfect performance as Margaret Humphreys, the real-life social worker who in 1986 stumbled over the hidden practice. Watson hits all the right emotional and intellectual notes in fleshing out a character who on paper is put through familiar paces: harried wife and mom struggling to balance family and career; relentless crusader almost singlehandedly standing up to powerful figures (and institutions, including the Catholic Church) who try to silence her. What could be rote is in Watson's hands wholly human. She's matched by Hugo Weaving's wrenching turn as middle-aged depressive Jack, who was duplicitously taken from his mother when he was 10 and embodies the devastation felt by countless victims of the depraved exchange. And as news spreads of the possibility that some Chinese babies adopted by Americans might have actually been kidnapped (similar to controversies that engulfed adoptions from Latin American countries some years back), it's worth noting that trafficking children is far from a dead issue.
Watson as agent of unwelcome truth.
Opens at Metro, Fri., Nov. 4. Rated R. 106 minutes.