South Solitary is one of those rare films within that sub-sub-genre I like to call ‘lighthouse movies’. These are films that really utilise the isolation and claustrophobia of these ancient towers, not to mention the fact that being a lighthouse keeper must have been pretty darn boring. That being said, there simply aren’t enough lighthouse movies.
It’s 1927 and Meredith Wadsworth (Miranda Otto) arrives on island of South Solitary with her Uncle George, who is to be the new head lighthouse keeper. George (played by Otto’s real life father, Barry) is a no-nonsense sort of man that takes his lighthouse duties with incredible seriousness. George’s criticisms don’t gel too well with Harry Stanley (Rohan Nichol) and Jack Fleet (Marton Csokas), the two current lighthouse keepers who have been doing their best there for months.
Meredith is a very passive young woman, and we very quickly learn that she is the sort of person that simply does what she is told, no matter by whom. She even seems incapable of taking care of herself when Harry’s kids tease her. She’s the type of character that may turn off certain viewers, though I can certainly assure you that she isn’t merely another Bella – writer/director Shirley Barrett and Miranda Otto give us insight into Meredith’s character which prevents us from simply writing her off as frustrating. Miranda Otto’s performance carries the film, essentially, and it’s fascinating to watch such a shy, lonely and eager to please person as Meredith try to survive on a remote island with a population of exactly eight people.
The cinematography is beautiful, and the film really captures the trials and tribulations of this long-forgotten profession. By the end of the film, you know the routine and environs back to front, something I really enjoyed.
The first half of South Solitary is a bit of an uphill slog. It’s slow to get going, and misfortune visits Meredith with such regularity that you have to wonder if she’s done something in a past life to deserve this. Thankfully, the second half is brilliant. This is where the narrative really takes off. Marton Csokas has always been a strong performer (and so incredibly hardworking – just check out his resumé…) and here is no exception. It’s fantastic that the same actor who regularly gets the bad guy roles in big budget Hollywood productions could play the awkward and softly spoken Jack.
Shirley Barrett’s second feature film is a quiet and understated achiever, and whilst I was instantly enamoured with the mood of the film, it took me a lot longer to warm to the drama. Mirando Otto is fantastic in the lead role, and it’s really her performance that smoothes over any misgivings I had with the narrative.Rating: