The Light Between Oceans – Review

Worth seeing: for another heart-breaking turn from Rachel Weisz in an otherwise moving but arch melodrama
Director:Derek Cianfrance
Featuring:Alicia Vikander, Michael Fassbender, Rachel Weisz, Anthony Hayes, Benedict Hardie, Bryan Brown, Emily Barclay, Florence Clery, Garry McDonald, Gerald Bryan, Jack Thompson, Jane Menelaus, Jonathan Wagstaff, Leon Ford, Peter McCauley, Stephen Ure, Thomas Unger
Length:133 minutes
Country:New Zealand, UK, US
Released:1st November 2016


First World War veteran Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender) is looking for a quiet life, to wind down and try to forget about the horrors he’s seen. What can be more peaceful than a spell operating a remote lighthouse off the coast of Western Australia?

As he arrives to take up the position, he meets – and falls for – a local elder’s daughter, Isabel (Alicia Vikander). They soon tie the knot and begin their married lives together on Janus island.

The months go by and their bliss is tempered only by their difficulties in having a baby. Time after time, their relationship comes under strain as they miscarry.

Then their lives are turned upside down, when a dinghy washes ashore, carrying a dead man – and a live baby.


From the gritty contemporary romantic drama of Blue Valentine, through the sprawling inter-generational family saga of The Place Beyond the Pines, Derek Cianfrance now turns his attention to another romance, this time set during the interbellum period.

The themes at its heart – moving on from war, isolation, passion, parenthood, guilt, honour – are no strangers to the big screen, but in the hands of Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander, there is a freshness to their presentation.

Disappointingly, the chemistry between the central pair isn’t always convincing enough; it feels a little rushed and might have felt stronger had we joined them some way into their relationship, rather than watched them go from strangers to spouses via picnic-buddies in about fifteen minutes. This then conflicts somewhat with the feelings we are meant to have about the way the couple behave towards each-other as the plot eventually begins to unwind. And in particular, it makes it a little hard to accept a big decision that they make that’s crucial to the second act.

Making us watch the relationship begin might be an attempt to show us the strength of their passion for each other, but it also delays the arrival of the first important plot point – the first miscarriage – until which moment, it’s not even clear why we are meant to care for the pair or indeed what on earth this film is going to be about.

But once we finally get there, the story begins to gather pace and with the beaching of the dinghy and then a chance discovery back on the mainland, during the baby’s christening, a bitter-sweet small-scale family drama erupts into a full-on tussle, first between the protagonists themselves and then with a grieving widow, played with immaculate poise and grace, by Rachel Weisz, in a performance as heart-breaking, thought-provoking and powerful as she gave in The Deep Blue Sea.

While the pace might seem uneven and certain plot points feel somewhat overwrought, expect yourself to be overwhelmed by raw emotions as the tear-jerker thunders towards its slightly unconvincing and unnecessary conclusion.

It’s a film whose core messages might appeal more to parents – particularly those who’ve suffered loss – than to unencumbered viewers, but the strength of Weisz, in particular, will convince all but the most heartless audience members of the pain caused to all those involved by a combination of accidents, bad luck, bad decisions and naive hope.