Oranges and Sunshine
Release Date: June 9, 2011
Bring to mind the earliest childhood memory you have. Mine is using walls to get around the house I grew up in until I finally toddled to where my mother was sitting. It’s brief and out of focus, but precious. Now imagine that memory you’re holding is the only one you have of your true home. That’s essentially the story behind Oranges and Sunshine, a film that details the almost unbelievable mass expulsion of children from Britain in the 20th century.
Oranges and Sunshine introduces us to Margaret Humphreys, played by Emily Watson, an English social worker in Nottingham during the 1980’s. One night she is approached by a frustrated Australian woman who tells her she just wants to ‘find out who I am’. She says she was in a Nottingham children’s home when she was put on a boat at the age of four and sent to Australia. Margaret cannot believe it: “Britain doesn’t send four-year-olds out on boats to Australia.” But apparently they did.
Margaret’s heart gets the better of her and she begins to investigate the woman’s case. What she uncovers is a systematic deportation of children in care that stretched from the 1940s to the 1970s. Various excuses were given – the hope of a better future, the need for ‘good British stock’ around the world – but the result was dreadful. Hugo Weaving plays Jack, a shattered man who was told his parents were dead and grew up thinking he was alone in the world. David Wenham appears as the embittered Len, a successful businessman who was made the ‘favourite’ of a pedophile priest at the age of ten.
Oranges and Sunshine shows the church at its worst: on the defensive about the orphans it was bound to care for and shielding monsters in clerical garb because of the faith they represented. The horror stories of neglect, beatings and sexual assault culminate at the Catholic-run ‘Boys Town’ in Western Australia. The reality, though, is that the British government delivered orphans into the hands of many religious organizations including the Salvation Army, the Wesley Mission and others. Many charities and churches that preached Jesus failed the ones he told us to care for.
When we presume to stand higher than our brothers and sisters we don’t fear judgment. On the contrary, we find endless supplies of mercy at the cross even as we deny it to our fellow sinners. We will pray and search the scriptures for God’s special will for us, while we ignore the very people he has placed on our doorstep. To quote C.T. Studd,
“Prayer is good; but when used as a substitute for obedience, it is nothing but a blatant hypocrisy.”
Let me encourage you to watch Oranges and Sunshine. There are some films that are just hard to see. Still, when they fill the screen, our hearts can fill with the knowledge of mercies we’ve been barely aware of, and become more inclined to extend them to others. Oranges and Sunshine is just such a film.