Based on the heart-rending history of forced child migration and the English social worker who committed her life to uncovering the truth, Oranges & Sunshine is a compassionate and deeply moving account of this controversial period in British and Australian history.

Directed by Jim Loach (son of British auteur Ken Loach), the film focuses on the experiences of Nottingham native Margaret Humphries (Emily Watson), who in the mid-1980s stumbled upon unfathomable stories of post-war child deportation, her research revealing this practice claimed 130,000 children and took place up until 1970. Margaret becomes the voice of these “Lost Children of the Empire”, criss-crossing between dank England and dusty Australia in an effort to reunite families and find answers.

Hugo Weaving and David Wenham amplify Watson’s big-hearted performance as two of the adult orphans, each haunted by their past and desperate for the truth. Weaving is haggard to Wenham’s bristling rage, while a larger ensemble cast also share hair-raising tales of abuse and deprivation.

But despite such dedicated performances, this important history ultimately proves too large and complex for a single film. Loach would have done better to mine his extensive television experience and rework this screenplay into a miniseries.