“Tom” Michael Fassbender a returning WW1 veteran is desperate for peace and quiet, a remote lighthouse posting alone will allow his demons to recede and guilt at being a survivor lessen.
This self enforced solitude is almost immediately shattered when he accidentally meets the daughter of the local retired school teacher. “Isabel” Alicia Vikander is feisty and quickly takes hold in Tom’s thoughts. Not long thereafter the couple are married and commence an idyllic love affair on their weather beaten island home, 100 miles from anywhere by boat.
When Isabel falls pregnant, a family is all she ever wanted, Tom is taciturn but goes along, still not believing his luck and turn of fortune.
To say more would spoil the story (the trailer does that anyway) but fair to say, there are many emotional twists and turns, hankies may also be required.
Adapting successful books into films is not always easy or even wise. Director Derek Cianfrance has gone all in with this emotional drama, despite being set in Australia the actors and crew lived on set at a remote real lighthouse in New Zealand, with further location shooting in Dunedin and Tasmania.
For the first half of the film, this is effectively a two hander with Fassbender and Vikander handling the gentle love affair with ease, despite the requirement for later heavy emotional scenes. As the story opens out, another character enters the story, Rachel Weisz taking on a very difficult and complex role.
The film is based on the best selling book by ML Stedman and the screenplay captures the essence of themes but as with many adaptations, something is lost in the translation from page to film. This is no fault of the actors who commit absolutely to the roles.
Having read the book, the story appears more organic on the page, the decisions made incremental, understandable. When shown on the screen, the things unsaid, the inner turmoil and intentions appear more Machiavellian, obvious and calculated. This is no fault of the screenplay, the deceit just feels more obvious and melodramatic in a visual representation.
All three leads are excellent, emoting wherever required in difficult roles. Vikander looks as gorgeous as ever, seemingly in almost every film released recently. The scenery and obvious location shoot add to the feeling of authenticity and the period detail is good.
This is a long film but the story is difficult to compress with the director keen to evoke the feel and place of the story, taking precious screen time to depict.
Arguably the film lessens in impact as the story moves into the later phases, again the book handles these better. The movie version feels somewhat rushed towards the conclusion, draining some of the desired impact.
A complex, emotional and powerful story well told by great actors, pushed hard by a director seeking authenticity and realism above all.
The fact the film comes close to the novel is an achievement in itself, like all film adaptations, reading the book first is the best plan. However, if that fails to light your candle, the film can stand by itself as a fair and solid interpretation.