The Light Between Oceans
, directed by Ryan Gosling fanboy Derek Cianfrance (
Place Beyond the Pines
) is the latest offering in the weepy romance cinema stakes. Adapted from the smash hit novel by M.L. Stedman, the story follows a couple in the 1920s who - swept up in the isolation of their uninhabited lighthouse island - think it could be a great idea to steal a baby that washes up next to a dead man in a dinghy. So far, so absolutely normal. A love story for the ages.
Starring Michael Fassbender (Shame, 12 Years a Slave) as World War I veteran Tom Sherbourne and Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina, The Danish Girl) as local lovely Isabel Graysmark, The Light Between Oceans promises love, heartbreak, pain and joy - perhaps going head to head with Me Before You to be 2016's tissue-wielding answer to The Notebook. With Sherbourne taking a lighthouse keeper job on Shanus Rock off the coast of Western Australia, he quickly becomes besotted with Isabel. They fall head over heels in love over what feels like one smile across a table and half a picnic on the hill.
What follows, in equally quick succession, is a wedding and two tragic miscarriages. As heart-wrenching as it is to see Isabel doubled over in both physical and emotional pain at the loss of another life, the film constantly feels like it is rushing to get to the good part: the reckless stealing of the cute baby. Perhaps it's because the beats of a novel don't always translate well to film, but there were many great leaps through time and progressions in their relationship that felt wholly unearned. Fassbender and Vikander, famously falling in love in real life while shooting the film, maintain a palpable chemistry despite all the haste.
Make no mistake: The Light Between Oceans is not all French kissing, love hearts and butterflies. With the couple becoming slightly unhinged and deluded on their own slice of paradise, the film becomes as much a statement on human reason, and how we need societal structures to keep the old noggin in check. That said, the pristine locations of the film are absolutely stunning, from the crashing ocean on the jagged rocks to the stark towering cliff faces. It's a shame that within such beauty lies a pretty gloomy story, one that foolishly trusts the audience will get behind the whole stealing-a-baby concept. I didn't, and I got very bored.
As the trailer may suggest, the ol' baby heist turns to custard later down the line when a widow inland meets the couple, and tells them the story of her daughter that was lost at sea four years ago. As things unfurl, The Light Between Oceans feels unrelentingly grim for the rose-tinted couple and their island utopia.
Rachel Weisz is a stony-faced wonder as wronged mother Hannah Roennfeldt, evoking the most emotional resonance of the whole film as she watches her own child call someone else Mum, and pull away from her tearful hugs.
If you like new couples wearing cream-coloured clothes, flitting about the countryside and staring soulfully into one another's eyes, you will adore the first half of this film.
Sadly, The Light Between Oceans descends into a bleak melodrama that not even some of the finest actors can salvage from the wreckage. Jumping haphazardly through time like an Energizer bunny and ending with some of the most absurd excuses for old age prosthesis I've seen outside of Edgar, this is one romance film that is more likely to leave you more miserable than smitten.