By Hemanth Kissoon
It can’t be easy following in your dad’s footsteps, when that director is Ken Loach (who hasn’t put a foot wrong in five films). So clearly Jim Loach has courage. He is also tackling a miscarriage of justice – a theme that permeates Loach Sr.’s work.
Nottingham 1986. Margaret Humphreys (Emily Watson) is a social worker, as is her husband. A woman approaches her after a support group and tells her that she was shipped off to Australia with hundreds of other kids when she was young. Margaret doesn’t believe her until she hears a corroborating story; triggering her investigation, which reveals a far-reaching and disturbing conspiracy theory.
Based on the real Humphreys’ book Empty Cradles, this is a pretty harrowing and emotional look at collusion at the highest levels, which left the vulnerable open to horrifying abuse. The psychological impact on the victims must’ve been immense. And if Jim had Ken’s talent this could’ve been coruscating, but instead is clumsy and awkward in too many places. There is a scene, for example, where a man is talking about being abused, which is followed by a cut to Margaret’s family with Ave Maria being sung on TV by a choir. This heavy-handedness pulls you out of the film and makes you groan at the imagery and crummy editing. The melodrama should’ve been dialled back.
The cast is terrific (including Hugo Weaving and David Wenham); and unusually, this is a positive look at social work – Humphrey’s bosses give her two years and expenses to delve into this. However, the story deserved to be told by a more competent film-maker.