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A restrained Emily Watson plays Humphreys, a woman who didn't ask to be thrust into a worldwide spotlight. In the beginning of the film, she is approached by a woman for help finding her parents. This is when she firsts hears about children being shipped to Australia. Initially reticent and disbelieving, she soon hears a corroboration of this tale. She starts to dig deeper and push further, working between the U.K. and Australia to start repairing families. It consumes her life and livelihood, but she is pushed by a sense of justice. As word gets out, she is a savior to many but an embarrassment to others. And as the unfolding allegations put many important figures in an unfavorable light, she is soon discredited by many and attacked (both emotionally and physically). But as the investigation perseveres, there is soon no use denying the truth.
Watson is so reserved to begin with, it is quite powerful to see the strain start to shatter her existence. It's a great performance in that it is completely underplayed and, therefore, all the more believable. Directed by Jim Loach (son of award winner Ken Loach), the film also boasts impressive support by David Wenham and Hugo Weaving. Both Weaving and Watson picked up actor accolades from Australian Film Critics Circle. As I watched the movie unravel fairly simply, I was sure I was going to give it four stars as a solid exploration of an unfathomable event. But then the magnitude and emotion really hit me in the concluding scenes and I realized just how well constructed the film actually was. With a minimum of histrionics, sentimentality, or moralizing, the screenplay and the actors really gets under your skin. And, in the end, I was deeply affected by "Oranges and Sunshine" because it didn't go for all the big expected moments. Understatement done extremely well!