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The Light Between Oceans

  • Film
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander sprinkle star dust on this weepy about a couple living in an Australian lighthouse who discover a baby in a rowing boat

‘The Light Between Oceans’ may go down as the film in which Michael Fassbender was out-acted by a toddler. Yes! Michael Fassbender, the actor’s actor, he of the brooding intensity, who sends straight men weak at the knees. It’s not that he acts badly. He gives a commanding performance as an emotionally exhausted Australian soldier in the years after World War I. It’s just that a cheeky, chubby-faced two-year-old brazenly steals the movie from him. 

‘The Light Between Oceans’ is adapted from a 2012 bestseller by M L Stedman (the ‘M’ is for Margot) and directed by Derek Cianfrance – the American filmmaker hailed by some as a new Terrence Malick after his first two films, 'Blue Valentine' and 'The Place Beyond the Pines'. This is his most mainstream film yet, a sweeping romantic drama, and while it’s often beautiful and moving, emotionally it never quite sticks. It lacks the roughness and realness of ‘Blue Valentine’, his portrait of a dying marriage. In places it feels like it’s tip-toeing into polite, tasteful period drama territory. 

Fassbender is Tom Sherbourne, a man hiding from the world as a lighthouse keeper on a tiny island miles off the coast of Western Australia (and modelling a nice line in fisherman-chic knitwear). During a visit to the mainland he meets funny, full-of-life Isabel (Alicia Vikander). They marry and live in bliss until Isabel suffers two life-destroying late miscarriages. When a rowing boat washes up on the beach with the body of a man and a crying baby, Isabel wants to keep the little girl. How can this be a coincidence? Tom is horrified, but he can’t deny his wife's grief. So they raise their ‘daughter’ Lucy on the island, fingers in their ears, their isolation from the world blocking out the implications of their choice. 

That comes into devastating focus when, back on the mainland, they meet Hannah (Rachel Weisz), whose husband and baby died at sea. Weisz gives a performance that goes soul-deep, her grief raw and painful. But none of the acting matches gorgeous newcomer Florence Clery as little Lucy. She’s hilarious and headstrong, and she shamelessly waltzes off with a handful of scenes. 

There is some Malick-beautiful photography of the sun setting over the ocean at dawn and the wild sea beating the shoreline. But the film suffers from that adapted-from-a-novel feeling of years passing and pain blurring into a cathartic glow. ‘Blue Valentine’ was hardgoing, an emotional workout equivalent to a 90-minute bootcamp class. This is more like a little gentle yoga.

Written by
Cath Clarke

Release Details

  • Rated:12A
  • Release date:Friday 6 January 2017
  • Duration:133 mins

Cast and crew

  • Director:Derek Cianfrance
  • Screenwriter:Derek Cianfrance
  • Cast:
    • Alicia Vikander
    • Michael Fassbender
    • Rachel Weisz
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