The Light Between Oceans Review

The Light Between Oceans marks a change of pace for writer / director Derek Cianfrance. He previously won acclaim for the impressive Blue Valentine with its nonlinear structure and followed this up with contemporary crime drama The Place Beyond The Pines, both starring Ryan Gosling. By contrast, the Light Between Oceans is an unashamedly old fashioned period romance, based on a best selling novel by M.L. Stedman and adapted for the screen by director Cianfrance. The story begins in 1918 as Tom Sherbourne (the ubiquitous Michael Fassbender), a former soldier in the First World War, accepts a posting as lighthouse keeper on the remote Janus Island off the West coast of Australia. Tom is still deeply traumatised by his past experiences in combat and believes that living alone is the best way for him to deal with such emotional pain. Cinematographer Adam Arkapaw beautifully captures the rugged landscape of the island and some gorgeous sunsets, which was actually filmed in New Zealand.

The sheer isolation on Janus does little to lift Tom's spirits over the subsequent months, until he meets impulsive Isabel Graysmark (Alicia Vikander) back on the mainland town of Partageuse. There's an instant attraction and a whirlwind romance follows, as Tom gradually comes out of his shell, sending heartfelt letters back to Isabel. It seems that marriage is the only way that the couple will be allowed to live together back on Janus and, as Isabel needs little excuse anyway, they are soon exchanging vows and dancing to the strains of Waltzing Matilda. Those with a predilection for romantic tearjerkers will enjoy the high schmaltz quotient of these early scenes. The emotive score by French composer Alexandre Desplat also complements the film very well.


Back on Janus, the couple try desperately for a baby, but this proves unsuccessful. A couple of miscarriages cause Isabel a considerable amount of anguish. Their lives are changed irrevocably though when they later discover a rowing boat adrift, with the body of a dead man on board and a baby who is miraculously still alive. Against his better judgement Tom is persuaded by Isabel not to report the incident. She pleads with Tom to keep the baby, fearing that the little girl will be shipped to an orphanage and not get the love that they can provide. Despite Tom's initial unease, they raise the infant as their own and seem to find happiness at last.


Several years pass and when the couple take the little girl, now named Lucy, to be christened back on the mainland, Tom notices a woman knelt by a gravestone. He curiously reads the engraving, which tells of a father and child lost at sea. Tom is understandably devastated. The woman he briefly encountered is in fact Lucy's grieving birth mother, Hannah Roennfeldt (Rachel Weisz), daughter of the wealthy Septimus Potts (Bryan Brown). Knowing the identity of Hannah plays upon Tom's conscience and he feels compelled to send an anonymous letter reassuring her that the child is safe and loved. This only sparks considerable interest in the the baby that was believed to be lost forever by the townsfolk, with Potts stumping up a large reward for further information. Tom is then faced with a difficult choice: continue with a terrible deceit or confess everything to the authorities and betray his loving wife who has finally found contentment.

Fassbender is excellent as Tom, with solid support from Vikander and Weisz, who both give earnest performances. They manage not to be upstaged either by an adorable little girl (Florence Clery). Unfortunately Cianfrance allows the film to become a little too melancholy, with a plodding narrative that presents multiple dilemmas for different characters and stands guilty of continually over tugging on the heart strings.

The Disc

Adam Arkapaw's superb cinematography, presented in 2.35:1, looks magnificent on the DVD . If some of the interior shots look a little soft, this was the intention of the filmakers.

The atmospheric sounds in the film such as crashing waves and Alexandre Desplat's stirring music come through effectively in a choice of either Dolby 2.0 or 5.1. Crucially the dialogue is clear throughout. The disc also includes an audio description, which is a thoughtful addition.

There are scant extras, with only a couple of brief featurettes and an audio commentary with director Derek Cianfrance who chats with film studies professor Phil Soloman.


This old fashioned tearjerker has some great performances and looks a treat, but becomes too plodding and melancholy. The DVD offers solid audio and visual, but limited extras.

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