Two-time Oscar nominee Emily Watson stars in Steven Spielberg’s upcoming Oscar-buzzed epic WII film, War Horse. But she also stars in a smaller poignant film opening this week sure to astound US audiences. Watson stars in Oranges and Sunshine, directed by Jim Loach (Ken Loach's son) and based on British social worker Margaret Humphries' book Empty Cradles, the story of her mission to help 130,000 British children, secretly deported to Australia and other British colonies, find their families. Many were used as slave labor, sexually abused and deprived of their homeland, childhood, identities, and families who had no idea what had happened to their children
This deportation/migration took place from after WWII and continued until 1970. Acting on her own, Humphries helped find the grown childen's relatives and investigated the English and Australian governments' collusion. Recently both countries governments issued an apology to the migrants and their families for what was done to them.
Of all the films Watson has appeared in – Breaking the Waves, Hilary and Jackie, The Boxer, The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, Sunshine resonates the strongest for her. During the filming, she was on location caring for her 11-month-old son when her own mother died at age 69.
This is also one of the few films Watson's actually kept costumes from. What’s especially ironic is that we’re talking about the wardrobe of a lowly paid social worker’s wardrobe circa the 1980s. Where did they find the conservative Dress-For-Success style suits? Thanks to fashion's cyclical nature, they didnt' have to look further than London.
“We (she and costume designer Cappi Ireland) went shopping!,” admits Watson, with a grin, while having tea at the Four Seaons during the film's junket this week. ”There was a eerie similarity between what was happening in High Street fashion and what was worn in the '80s. So there were lots of 70-80s shoulder-paddy, pencil skirty kinds of things in the shops.”
Humphries told Fash Track she always wore what she calls "my armor' -- skirt, jacket, tan hose and sensible shoes -- to keep an emotional distance from the people she was helping.
But even she chuckled when she watched Watson in the scenes when she visits the child labor camp in Bindoon, Australia. “I saw how absolutely ridiculous it was for me to be in a suit. I always wore a suit, even in the sweltering heat of Australia. Now when I look back, I think 'How silly was that?' I think wearing the suit was part of my not losing my own identity during the process of helping people find their own."
So what clothing items did Watson keep? "I have a jacket and a pretty blouse," she said, smiling. "A very pale blouse with a little tie in front that I wore in the scene with all the officials and also when I’m peeling potatoes in the kitchen.
Sounds very practical indeed. And emotional. Watch the trailer here. Oranges and Sunshine opens In NY and LA on Friday, Oct 21.