A quietly angry, lightly fictionalized film detailing the systematic, organized UK government sanctioned deportation of up to 150,000 children, often as young as three to Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and Zimbabwe.
In case you were under the assumption that this occurred in the dark ages, you would be wrong. The last cases are recorded in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s.
Emily Watson plays Margaret Humphreys the tireless Nottinghamshire social worker, who stumbled across an isolated case and then fought almost single-handedly to undercover the truth. Creating the “Child Migrants” trust by necessity to reunite lost families, sometimes decades later and in many cases too late.
The film is based on the the book “Empty Cradles” written by Humphreys to highlight the plight of the families and children involved and raise much needed funds.
Not only were children sent to countries alien to them, in the majority of cases without parental consent or even with the parents knowledge, many were told incorrectly their parents had died leaving them as orphans. Brothers and sisters were systematically split up and many endured harsh conditions, being treated as slave labour and subject to both mental and in many cases physical and sexual abuse, often at the hands of those supposedly charged with their care and well being.
As in many such cases, the Church and charitable organizations, when confronted with the proof of the neglect they oversaw, denied the charges and repeatedly attempted to frustrate attempts to drag the secret into the light.
Eventually in 2010 the UK Government formally apologised for the migrants treatment, finally acknowledging the mistakes that had been made.
Bearing in mind the shocking truths on display, does the film need to be any good?
Directed by small screen veteran Jim Loach, this is a sympathetic account with quality naturalistic acting from all of the cast, in particular Watson and Hugo Weaving an adult sent as a child to Australia for “Sunshine and Oranges”. Humphreys long suffering and supportive husband deserves a medal of some description as his wife continues to travel the world putting wrongs right or at least allowing closure, seemingly with little regard for her own safety, mental or physical health.
The film resembles “Magdalene Sisters”, all the more effective for the lack of moralizing, preaching and sentimentality, apart from one off key line “You got my Mum for Christmas”, the dialogue and acting are pitch perfect.
There are always concerns as to how fictionalized true stories are, certainly the facts are undeniable, all films compress time, alter circumstances and timelines. The most important factor is, does the film capture the spirit and feel, this does just that.
A stirring, largely truthful re-telling of an important story in our recent past, not an easy watch in parts but well worth the time to be aware of this travesty, compounded by the initial failure of anyone brave enough to take responsibility for what had occurred
Watson embodies the spirit of Humphreys who quite rightly eventually received recognition for all her efforts.