As a genre, the sweeping romance is one that’s been overlooked in recent years, so there is much excitement about The Light Between Oceans, an adaptation of the 2012 bestselling novel by ML Steadman.
On paper, the film has everything you expect; beautiful lead actors in Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander, stunning backdrops and a period setting. It even has the all-important moral dilemmas and tragic twist, but somehow I just wasn’t left reaching for the tissues. Director Derek Cianfrance is no stranger to tackling complex and gut-wrenching themes.
He helmed 2010’s Blue Valentine, about the breakdown of a marriage, and 2012’s The Place Beyond The Pines, exploring the lengths a father will go to provide for his family, and readily admits he was sobbing on the subway when he first read The Light Between Oceans.
It’s set shortly after World War One and follows Tom Sherbourne (Fassbender), a man seeking a peaceful existence after his horrific experiences on the front line. He puts himself forward for the role of lighthouse keeper on the uninhabited Janus Rock off the west coast of Australia.
Though he intends to live a life of solitude, he can’t help but fall for the vibrant Isabel Graysmark (Vikander), a young woman who lives in the harbour town. They marry and for a while lead an idyllic existence on the stark island.
Tom manages to slowly shake the horror of his past, along with his moustache, and Isabel blooms. But as time passes, they’re delivered devastating blows to any hope of having a family of their own.
One day, a rowing boat washes ashore. Inside they find a dead man and a crying baby. Isabel, desperate and broken, pleads with Tom to raise the girl as their own. Despite his reservations, he relents and the trio flourish miles from inquisitive locals. But on one of their visits to the mainland, Tom discovers a local woman, Hannah (Rachel Weisz) who’s grieving a husband and child lost at sea. He contacts Hannah anonymously; a decision that sets into a motion a chain of events with devastating and long-lasting consequences.
The film looks marvellous, as do Fassbender and Vikander as they look wistfully out to the vast ocean. But while they individually put in captivating performances, there’s an element of passion lacking, which is surprising given the pair fell in love for real during the shoot.
You’re never quite wrapped up in Tom and Isabel’s world and for that reason the climactic scenes lack oomph. Combine that with a plot that teeters on the preposterous and you’re left with a pleasant but not tear-jerking two hours.