In case you hadn’t already guessed, this is a film to pull at your heartstrings. It centres around the universal themes of parental love and letting go so will likely touch a nerve with everyone.
Based on M. L. Stedman’s novel, the film centres around the dilemma faced by a lighthouse keeper, Tom (Michael Fassbender), and his wife, Isabel (Alicia Vikander), when a baby and her dead father are washed up near the beach by their house. After trying for a child and suffering several miscarriages, Isabel convinces Tom they should keep the child and raise her as their own. Despite the questionable morals, all is well for the family until they run into the child’s real mother, and they begin to face the consequences of their decision.
The film is anchored by the two central performances of Fassbender and Vikander. Both fill their characters with life, communicating the complexity of their emotions (which are mirrored in the complex emotions evoked in the audience), allowing the audience to feel with them and for them, despite the uncertainty surrounding their morals. The chemistry between the two leads helps to make their whirlwind romance more believable, with Fassbender on form as always, and Vikander once again proving she is one of the finest actresses around today. Rachel Weisz, too, brings weighted emotion to her role as the biological mother of the child.
There are some beautifully poignant moments in the dialogue, with certain affirmations worth taking note of. These, combined with Adam Arkapaw’s beautiful cinematography and Alexandre Desplat’s heart-wrenching score, help to elevate the emotions, intensifying what occurs on screen.
The film raises interesting questions surrounding the morality of the characters’ decisions, as well as how and whom children identify as their parent. This helps add a further layer to the film and complicates the audience’s reactions to what happens on screen. It redeems the film when it descends a little into melodrama, but doesn’t quite cover it.
It feels as though through the film trying to get everything into its two-hour running time, many events have a reduced impact. Events aren’t necessarily rushed, but could have benefitted from a longer running time to give the audience time to absorb the emotions. The potential was there for a long romantic epic; instead it remains not much more than a weepy.
The result is a heartfelt and heartbreaking tale of love and loss, but one that feels as though it doesn’t quite fulfill its potential.