On paper, The Light Between Oceans reads like the plotline of a new Nicholas Sparks weepy: a couple on an isolated island who can’t have children one day discover a baby washed ashore in a lifeboat. However, the latest feature from Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine, The Place Beyond the Pines) is a much classier affair all round, thanks to a sensitive script and direction, and terrific turns from Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander.
The former plays Tom Sherbourne, who, after surviving the horrors of the First World War, is looking forward to the peace and quiet of manning a lighthouse on Janus Rock, a remote island off the coast of Western Australia. However, his solitary existence doesn’t last long: Tom falls in love with Isabel Graysmark (Vikander), the daughter of a prominent citizen (Garry McDonald) from the nearest mainland town. They are soon married and begin a new life at the lighthouse.
All goes blissfully well to start with, but after Isabel suffers two miscarriages, she falls into depression. Then the aforementioned miracle occurs: a boat turns up on the island containing a dead man and a very much alive infant. Seeing how much caring for the baby has lifted his wife’s spirits – and assuming that the baby’s parents are dead– Tom reluctantly agrees to pass the child off as their own, unwittingly setting in motion a tragic chain of events.
Shot in Australia and New Zealand, The Light Between Oceans looks gorgeous and Cianfrance is careful to take his time in establishing the moral dilemmas at the heart of this moving tale of love, fate and forgiveness. The fact that his two superb leads fell for each other in real life during the shoot adds to the fairytale quality of the film, although their fine performances are more than matched by Rachel Weisz, who emerges as a key character in the final half of the film.
Be warned, though – one thing that it has in common with a Sparks’ film is that it’s a genuine tearjerker, and even the most cynical of blokes will find it hard to stifle the odd sniffle here and there.
In cinemas: November 3, 2016
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander, Rachel Weisz
Directed by: Derek Cianfrance