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The Leaving of Liverpool (1992)


Highly recommended to me as a powerful and emotional drama, The Leaving of Liverpool became a film I was looking forward to see.

Moreover, I was impatient to see if this made-for-TV film would be good enough to compare with the best coming of age movies made for TV as outlined in a post I wrote last year. Before you go on reading the review, keep in mind that I was warned of several shocking scenes – which may make the film unsuitable for people under the age of twelve.

The film tells the story of a group of British orphans who, after the end of WWII, are send to Australia and other parts of the world that once were part of the British Empire. in an attempt to offer them a chance to start a new life amongst the so called “Commonwealth“.

The story begins at an orphanage located in Liverpool where we first observe the way the children were treated by the ones responsible for their upbringing. Strict discipline and corporal punishment were common at many institutions ran by the Catholic Church.

We are introduced to the characters on whom the film will focus. Christine Tremarco and Kevin Jones star in the roles of Lily and Bert. Both first time actors they deliver  extraordinary performances to which the film owes much of its success.

Lily is brought to the orphanage by her mother, who leaves her there with a promise to be back in six months.  Bert, who has spend most of his childhood at the institution, notices Lily’s distress and, along with his best friend  – a young deaf boy ( David Kaff ) – tries to distract the scared girl by showing her how to march.

Soon the kids are gathered into the study hall for an important announcement. They are to be sent to different countries to experience “great adventures” and contribute to the educated white population of several countries such as Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

When Lily and Bert hear the announcement in the school hall, they are quite  confused by it –  Lily is scared and does not want to live in any other country, but wait at the orphanage for her mother.  Burt convinces her that it’s all just a game and nobody is going to be sending them anywhere.  That’s only logical he tells her.

Yet, it turns out that the child migration schemes are quite real and in the next scenes we observe how the kids are prepared for their “big  adventure”. They find themselves in an operating room, their tonsils being removed and next  at the harbor waiting to board a huge ship designated to Australia. Once they arrive in Australia, after a long sea trip that does not pass without accidents, the kids are separated – girls from boys, brothers from sisters – and sent to distinct parts of the country.

Kevin KnapmanYet, instead of being housed with a new family, or finding themselves in better conditions, the children are sent to work camps and reformatory institutions.

The first part of the film focuses on the experiences of Bart and his best friend, sent to Bindoon in Western Australia where the boys are used as slave labour to build a new religious seminary. The second part of the film focuses on Lily.

Separated from  the boys upon arrival, she is made to believe that her own mother signed a paper which allowed the people governing the immigrant program to send her whenever they desired.  This Australian screen website features a great overview of the film, featuring Curator’s notes and two clips from it.


AP Photo/National Archives of Australia

The Leaving of Liverpool is based on real  events as was recently confirmed by the Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd who issued an apology to thousands of impoverished British children shipped to Australia. You can find an article related to this at which is illustrated with three documentary photographs. The New York Times also has an extensive article on the subject titled Australian Leader Apologizes to the ‘Lost Innocents’ .

The film is set to a slow pace and its total duration is 205 minutes. It was first broadcast in the form of mini series back in 1992. In their reviews of The Leaving of Liverpool, many people wrote that the film touched their hearts.

Being a fan of  realistic dramas, I was expecting that my experience wouldn’t be much different. Yet, after the final credits rolled, I admitted to myself that even if the film was good and the story well told it failed to “involve me emotionally as much as some other dramas such as  The Cure  or  Song for a Raggy Boy. The film, however, is a must see for every fan of the coming of age genre as the story of Lily and Burt demonstrate the best characteristics of coming of age films focusing on the characters’ life changing experiences up to and through adulthood.

I would not hesitate to recommend The Leaving of Liverpool, but suggest that, because of its length, one is better off seeing its two parts on two separate days as this would allow for more time to reflect on the scenes in the film.


The Leaving of Liverpool (1992)
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  1. I watched The Leaving of Liverpool on the telly in Darwin, Australia when it was first shown in 1992. I remember it as if it were yesterday. And it did bring about recognition of the wrongs done to these children by the orphanages that were involved, and eventually an apology from the Australian government. Under very similar circumstances children from Dr. Bernado’s Homes in the UK were sent to Canada. Their experiences in group homes across the country were sadly similar. Those sent to farms were often exploited as unpaid labour. A few were well treated. The government of Canada has not yet apologised for its involvement. A TV program, Forgotten, exposes the damage this did to the young children involved, and the adults they grew in to.

  2. I didn’t know that this had been reviewed in TheSkyKid until a random link turned up.

    I first saw it as a young person (yes, I really was one of those once!) and it affected me profoundly. I later found myself working for one of the childcare charities who were implicit in the scandal. To the best of my knowledge they have never made a formal apology about it.

    Parts (actually lots) of the version I have (the full two-part TV drama) are shocking and deeply disturbing; but this should be essential viewing for anyone involved in social policy and legislation regarding young people.

    I’m not an old man yet, but I’m old enough to know first-hand that this stuff really did happen.

    • This review was written way back in 2010. It is a blessing when someone discovers an older review as this makes me check things up – fix broken images , etc…
      The film has been available on YouTube for a while so people who want to see it can look for it there. It definately draws attention to the way youth were treated.

  3. I was recently able to watch this in two parts from YouTube.

    I can recommend the book Empty Cradles by Margaret Humphreys, the social worker from Nottingham who has worked tirelessly for these migrant children who are now of course mature adults. It is thanks to her extreme efforts that some of these children have been reconnected to their families.

  4. where can I find a copy of this DVD?
    Everywhere I look on the web it says it’s no longer available

  5. Indeed there are some shocking scenes in The Leaving of Liverpool – and I guess the appropriate age to watch it is above 12. However its a film one can learn a lot for – how things in the real live are , how one has to fight sometimes for the basic things such as freedom and dignity. And appreciate what those kids did….and the horror they went trough .

    Thank you for your comment. I hope that I will be seeing more comment from you .


  6. I can remember watching this the first time it was on TV in the UK. I was only about 8 and I loved it. It scared me in places which I suppose why it's more for a mature audience.

    Seen it last week and realised how brilliant the lead characters were and how sad the real life situation was for so many children. I know what you mean, and agree about the second half being a little bit cliched, but would still recommend it to anyone.

    p.s. love your website!

  7. As i told you on twitter some week ago i was in doubt about this film. But now i have had a chance to watch the first part of it and i do have a similar oppionion about it as you do. Even if it was a good and touching story, it couldnt capture me emotionally as many other movies can.

    I have yet to watch the second part, but i do expect it to be similar to the first part.

  8. i loved this programme and have been looking for a copy for years. preferably region 2 or 5 as i work in a secondary school teaching the holocaust and war!

  9. Hello Cathy. Thank you for commenting. The film seems out of stock at, but you can try odering it from There are also coppied on the UK Ebay. Hope I was able to help.


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Review of the TV Coming of age drama The Leaving of Liverpool first broadcasted in the form of mini series back in 1992.

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Review of the TV Coming of age drama The Leaving of Liverpool first broadcasted in the form of mini series back in 1992.The Leaving of Liverpool (1992)