No one can brood like Michael Fassbender can. Filmed on a remote, stunningly serene stretch of a southern New Zealand coast The Light Between Oceans, there was always going to be a special kind of romance on show.
Cathartic weeping is promised from the outset in the emotional adaptation of ML Stedman’s bestselling Australian novel. Full of sweeping, windswept coastal scenery and ripe with emotion, Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander give striking performances with true heart through many quivering chins and stoic tears.
The post-WW1 period drama follows the journey of war-scarred veteran Tom Sherbourne (Fassbender) and his buoyant wife Isabel (Vikander). Tom accepts a temporary position as lighthouse keeper on the uninhabited island, Janus Rock, off the coast of Western Australia. With his tortured soul, Tom looks forward to the solitude after the horror and chaos of the Western Front.
Fassbender delivers perfectly in this hardened, visceral performance. However, the ex-soldier’s heart soon melts upon meeting mainland local Isabel, whose spirit and story of her own grief of brothers lost in the war starts a swift and dewy romance through letters. By any actors other than Fassbender and Vikander, the romance could have been hollow and melodramatic. But when two of the world’s most beautiful performers swoon, it’s hard not to get carried away with them in a love which translated off-screen too.
The couple marry and move to the island together, with a honeymoon montage aglow with sun-dappled embraces and sweet whispers given heart by Alexandre Desplat’s subtle, lovely score. As the couple tries for a baby, Isabel miscarries twice, which makes for some nightmarishly raw moments. Yet when a dinghy drifts into their lives with a dead man and crying baby inside, the couple’s prayers have seemingly been answered. Though Tom is initially judicious about keeping the baby, Isabel convinces him to pass ‘Lucy’ off as their own.
Years later, the couple meet Hannah Potts (Rachel Weisz), a haunted woman whose husband and baby were lost at sea the very same time Lucy came into their lives. Here begins tales of torment and moral decisions made by the pair, and later Potts, that are drenched with emotional truth as each character grapples with excruciating choices.
Unashamedly sentimental and swirling with heartfelt depth, the film is a beautiful cinematic experience. Fassbender and Vikander show their impressive versatility, while young Lucy (Florence Clery) keeps them on their toes and Aussie favourite Jack Thompson delivers characteristic humanity to every scene.
While indie-bred director Derek Cianfrance has done more gritty and challenging films (Blue Valentine, The Place Beyond the Pines) in the past, this period piece which captures the heart and questions the consequences of human error, enchants with its own light.
Reviewed by Hannah Lally
Rating out of 10: 9
The Light Between Oceans opens in cinemas from 3 November 2016.