Film Review: The Light Between Oceans

Derek Cianfrance’s adaptation of M.L. Stedman’s The Light Between Oceans brings Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander together in a long, sometimes melodramatic romance.

This filming of Australian-born author M.L. Stedman’s 2012 costume drama was somewhat surprisingly adapted for the screen and directed by American Derek Cianfrance, he of the very contemporary Blue Valentine and The Place Beyond The Pines, and the result is a conspicuously overlong, swoonily romantic and increasingly melodramatic epic.

Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender), a haunted and withdrawn veteran of the First World War, gladly takes a position as lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock off the coast of Western Australia (although this was actually filmed in Tasmania, New Zealand and other locations).

He’s warned by several supporting characters, including Violet and Bill Graysmark (Jane Menelaus and Garry McDonald), of the dangers posed by such isolation, and while he does want to be alone it doesn’t stop him falling hard for their daughter Isabel (Alicia Vikander).

Michael and Alicia started dating during production, and they were obviously drawn together by the intimacy of this film’s first half, as their characters fall deeply in love, marry in 1921 and have their bond severely tested when Isabel loses two pregnancies.

When a lifeboat washes up on the shore and they discover a man’s corpse and a frightened baby girl, the distraught Isabel convinces Tom to lie to the outside world and pretend that the child is theirs, an idea that works well for some years and makes everyone happy, until the would-be parents return to the mainland and discover that their decision has led to the profound grief of Hannah Roennfeldt (Rachel Weisz).

Almost a movie in two parts, this works best when Fassbender and Vikander (both at their most gorgeous, it must be said) are alone on Janus and we almost feel like we’re intruding into something private and seriously personal. Then when we get into the second hour-and-a-bit it rather suffers, as heavy heartstring-plucking and general blubbering take over.

Rated M. The Light Between Oceans will be in cinemas from Thursday, November 3.

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