Oranges and Sunshine is a deeply moving study of emotionally scarred adults who were illegally deported as children to Australia from Britain in the 1940s and ‘50s. Toplining a superb Emily Watson as Margaret Humphreys, the British social worker who brought the shameful secret to world attention in the late ‘80s, this standout debut by Jim Loach, son of director Ken Loach, will make a strong claim for arthouse berths everywhere.

Rona Munro’s finely chiseled adaptation of Humphreys’ 1996 book “Empty Cradles” astutely avoids flashbacks of youngsters being herded onto boats. Set entirely in the 1980s, the movie opens with Margaret (Watson) more or less stumbling onto the life-changing story when confronted in Nottingham by Charlotte (Federay Holmes), an Australian woman who wants “to find out who I am.”

Margaret discovers Charlotte is one of thousands of British youngsters who were unlawfully removed from children’s homes and “unfit” (i.e., unwed) mothers and sent to Australia “for their own good.” The heartbreaking stories Margaret hears will bring tears to most eyes. Without a hint of sensationalism or manipulation, deportees discuss the emptiness of never having felt a proper sense of identity. Others confess to feeling worthless after years of mental and physical abuse in orphanages, many of them church-run.

Watson is perfect as the upright, compassionate and fiercely determined champion of victims’ rights. Weaving has rarely been better than as the empty Jack, and Wenham brings a sharp edge as the prickly Len.

Alissa Simon, Variety

Jim Loach will attend the screening