THE apologies keep coming. In 2008 Kevin Rudd apologised (memorably) to the stolen generations. In recent weeks at least two premiers have apologised to the victims of forced adoptions. In 2009 the Australian and British governments apologised for the deportation of thousands of British children in care. In this general climate of contrition, director Jim Loach’s British-Australian co-production Oranges and Sunshine (Sunday, noon, Showtime Premiere) could hardly be more topical. The film’s producers tell us that more than 130,000 British children were separated from their families or taken from institutions and sent to Australia over several decades until the deportations ceased in 1970. Children were forced into manual labour or domestic service and there were many cases of abuse.
Loach (son of the British social-realist filmmaker Ken Loach) tells this appalling story through the eyes of Margaret Humphreys, a British social worker whose investigations helped unite many separated families and whose book, Empty Cradles (the basis of Rona Munro’s screenplay), did much to the bring the scandal to public attention. Anchoring the film is a luminous performance from Emily Watson as Humphreys — the personification of pluck, doggedness and compassion — with fine support from David Wenham and Hugo Weaving. Oranges and Sunshine has grace, passion and integrity. It is told with dignity and restraint and entirely without sensationalism, and if it lacks the kind of vigorous narrative drive that marks the best screen drama it is nevertheless among the finest and most important films yet made about social injustice in this country.
Arthur Penn’s landmark gangster film Bonnie and Clyde (Sunday, 10.35pm, Movie Greats) shocked audiences in the 1960s not only by setting new standards of graphic violence but also for its sympathetic portrayal of two rural Depression-era outlaws, played by Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway. The film’s realism was heightened, rather than tempered, by jaunty slapstick sequences and passages of lyricism, and proved to be Warner’s biggest box-office at that time after My Fair Lady.
It is Hollywood’s best and darkest comic gangster film, but for black comedy of a richer and deeper kind nothing surpasses American Beauty (Sunday, 8.30pm, Movie Greats), the first film of British stage director Sam Mendes and screenwriter Alan Ball. We follow Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) through a mid-life meltdown as he copes with imminent downsizing at work, chaos on the domestic front and a developing obsession with a cheerleader, his daughter’s best friend at school. It’s been called the ultimate satire on suburbia, but I prefer to see it as a lament for empty and aimless lives, wherever they may be lived.
(MA15+) ★★★★✩ Sunday, 10.35pm, Movie Greats
(M) ★★★ Sunday, noon, Showtime Premiere
(M) ★★★★✩ Sunday, 8.30pm, Movie Greats
Annette Bening in