Book v Film: The Light Between Oceans

“There are still more days to travel in this life. And he knows that the man who makes the journey has been shaped by every day and every person along the way. Scars are just another kind of memory. Isabel is part of him, wherever she is, just like the war and the light and the ocean. Soon enough the days will close over their lives, the grass will grow over their graves, until their story is just an unvisited headstone. He watches the ocean surrender to the night, knowing that the light will reappear.”

Based on M.L. Stedman‘s 2012 debut novel and directed by Derek Cianfrance, The Light Between Oceans follows war veteran Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender), who returns home to Western Australia after fighting in the western trenches of World War I in Europe. After meeting and quickly falling in love with the young Isabel (Alicia Vikander), the newly married couple move to an isolated island where Tom maintains the upkeep of a working lighthouse, and Isabel gets used to married life away from her family. But as Tom struggles with his numb emotions from serving in the war, and after the heartache of not being able to start a family of their own, the couple rescue a baby girl who has washed up on an adrift rowboat.

Believing their prayers may have finally been answered, Isabel encourages Tom to informally adopt her as their own but, as a man of principle, Tom is torn between reporting the lost child and pleasing the woman he loves. Against his better judgment, he agrees to let Isabel keep the child, naming her Lucy and informing their families that she is their own. But when Tom and Isabel return to the mainland a few years later, they soon discover that their actions may have had devastating consequences for the lives of others.


The following post is a review of the film adaptation in comparison to the book. You can read my review of the book on its own here.

After reading The Light Between Oceans and finding out that one of my favourite directors, Derek Cianfrance, would be directed the adaptation and that two of my favourite actors, Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander, would be staring in the lead roles, I couldn’t have been looking forward to this film more.

The story is a heart-wrenching moral dilemma between a husband and wife, about when good people make bad decisions, dealing with a delicate topic in a claustrophobic setting and ultimately exploring the boundaries between what’s right and wrong.

You can buy the book here

With this tormenting conflict at the centre of the story, it’s easy to feel both of the characters’ desperation and suffering. The film details Isabel’s miscarriages much more than the book does, dealing with them with such a delicacy but also a rawness that these scenes will move any woman to tears (I was also pregnant whilst watching this film in the cinema so I was a blubbering mess).

Tom and Isabel are both strong characters and they are played perfectly by Fassbender and Vikander. You can see why they began a relationship in real life after filming this because their chemistry is just breathtaking to watch.

It’s a story that people will read very differently, depending on your own life experiences and moral compass. Some may find it melodramatic, others will see it is a beautiful, genuine, and heartbreaking showcase of marriage, love, and family.

Differences From The Book:

Aside from the obvious change being that the characters in the book are Australian, so there’s a lack of accent and Australian sayings, here’s a list of all of the changes from the book to the film:

  • The book begins with a flashforward to the boat carrying the baby onto the island, but the film is linear throughout.
  • In the book, Tom travels to Partageuse on a boat. Overnight, he saves a woman (who later turns out to be Hannah’s sister, Gwen) from getting attacked by a man. He comments that the war has changed people and that they blur the line between what’s right and wrong, connecting to the story’s ending from the beginning. In the film, he travels by train and we don’t see anything happen.
  • In the book, Tom smiles at Isabel and she asks if he wants some bread to feed the seagulls with her. In the film, Tom walks past her feeding the seagulls. She smiles at him, but Tom doesn’t smile first and they do not stop to talk.
  • In the book, we meet the owner of the boarding house where Tom is staying and she sets out some very strict rules for him. In the film, we just see him getting dressed in front of a mirror.
  • In the book, Tom brings some flowers for the Captain’s wife. In the film, the focus is on the Graysmarks straight away.
  • In the book, Tom has a coughing fit at the dinner table and has to go into the kitchen to get a glass of water. This doesn’t happen in the film.
  • In the book, Ralph and Bluey stay overnight on the island with Tom and show him around. In the film, they drop him off and leave straight away.
  • In the book, Ralph visits Tom after 3 months to deliver a foods supply and delivers a letter to him from Isabel. Tom sends a letter back with Ralph. He then stays on the island for 6 months before going back to shore. In the film, Ralph and Bluey visit Tom after 3 months and say that he has to go back to shore to speak to the Captain, and there is no letter from Isabel.
  • In the book, Tom has two weeks onshore. In the film, he only has a few days.
  • In the book, Isabel tells Tom to come back the next day so that she can take him on a picnic. In the film, she announces it at the dinner table before asking Tom privately.
  • On their picnic, Isabel only asks about Tom’s family in the book. In the film, she talks more about her own family.
  • In the book, Isabel doesn’t talk about wanting to see Janus or joke about being his wife so early on. When she does, Tom replies that he hasn’t even kissed her yet, to which she takes up the opportunity. In the film, we don’t see this first kiss.
  • In the book, Isabel doesn’t reply to Tom’s letter since he has to wait for somebody to come to the island to play postman. The film disregards this obstruction so that we can see some communication between the two main characters and it, instead, shows a few letters exchange between them.
  • In the book, we don’t see Tom return to shore to marry Isabel, it just jumps ahead a bit and starts detailing their first few days together as husband and wife on the island. The film takes more time to see their romance grow a little.
  • In the book, Isabel takes the map and draws place names on it. She doesn’t do this in the film.
  • The film shows Isabel arriving on the island and going to the “marriage bed” almost straight away. The book isn’t so full-on. It does say that she serves him breakfast naked one morning, but there’s nothing more said than that. The film, however, is quite sensual and often shows a naked Tom and Isabel in bed together.
  • Isabel doesn’t shave Tom’s moustache in the book like she does in the film.
  • In the book, Tom buys Isabel a gramophone for her birthday and makes her dinner. This doesn’t happen in the film.
  • The book describes how Tom went to find his mum at the age of 21 with the help of a private detective, but she had already died when he finds her apartment. We don’t learn about this in the film, he just hints that there wasn’t much “love lost” when she died.
  • In the book, Isabel has three miscarriages, two of which her family know about. In the film, she only has two, and it doesn’t seem that her family know about either of them.
  • The book doesn’t go into detail about Isabel’s miscarriages like the film does. For the first one, it only says that Tom couldn’t hear Isabel crying for help. For the second one, it briefly flashes back after the boat arrives on the island to Isabel screaming that the baby is coming too soon (Again, the film remains linear for these scenes). The book doesn’t detail the third miscarriage, either, but it does say that there were three of them. I think the book handles these scenes very delicately and that nothing much more needs to be said. The film does put a lot bigger focus on them and these scenes are heartbreaking to watch, but they show the characters’ emotions brilliantly.
  • In the book, Isabel cuddles her stillborn baby and gives him a bath. Tom later looks back on this moment when Isabel blames him for their baby’s death, saying that he didn’t want him. In the film, we just see her and Tom put up a cross for each baby that they have lost.
  • In the book, Isabel breastfeeds Lucy to settle her down. In the film, we see Isabel cradling the baby with a sheet over them both, but it is not focused on.
  • Both in the book and the film, Ralph and Bluey visit Tom and Isabel and meet the new baby. In the book, however, Isabel makes a footprint for Ralph to give to her mum and dad.
  • In the book, Isabel’s mum looks back at a letter she received from a woman who looked after her son whilst he was dying. Isabel briefly talks about her brothers dying at the beginning of the film and tells Tom how hard it hit her mum, but the letters are not discussed.
  • In the book, Isabel takes part in a Mum’s race at a Boxing Day fete because Tom doesn’t feel comfortable doing it. This isn’t in the film.
  • In the book, Isabel goes to see a doctor once she’s back on shore. She doesn’t in the film.
  • In the book, Ralph’s wife Hilda tells Tom and Isabel about Hannah losing her husband and baby. In the film, Tom sees the grave and asks Ralph about them, but Isabel doesn’t find out for ages.
  • In the book, Tom wants to tell people the truth before they get the baby Christened. In the film, Isabel still doesn’t know at this point.
  • In the book, Tom receives a letter from his Dad. It was written a while ago because they couldn’t find him and his Dad has now died of cancer, but the letter once again tries to instal a sense of the differences between what is right and wrong. This is not mentioned in the film.
  • In the book, Tom meets Hannah’s sister, Gwen, and realises that she is the women he saved on the boat in the beginning. Isabel is angry that he had kept this a secret from her. In the film, this didn’t happen in the beginning so Tom and Gwen do not know each other.
  • In the film, Isabel doesn’t know who Hannah is when she meets her at first, but Isabel has already known for a while in the book.
  • In the book, Lucy gets lost when Tom and Isabel are still looking after her and people start to notice that something is wrong in their marriage. This doesn’t happen in the film and nobody knows that anything is wrong.
  • In the book, the rattle is engraved with cherubs. In the film, it is an owl.
  • In the book, Ralph allows Tom some time to say goodbye to the lighthouse. He doesn’t in the film.
  • In the book, Ralph visits Tom a few times. In the film, many of these scenes are merged together.
  • In the book, Bluey also comes to visit Tom in prison and apologises for telling the police who the rattle belonged to. Tom forgives him and asks him to visit Isabel and to tell her that he understands.
  • When Isabel bumps into Hannah and Lucy in the shop, in the book Isabel tells Hannah that she is being cruel and that she doesn’t know anything about Lucy. She doesn’t say any of this in the film.
  • In the book, there’s a lot more conflict between Hannah and Lucy. Lucy throws things in her face and roleplays with her dolls saying that Hannah is a witch. We can see that the relationship is bad in the film, but nothing that bad is shown.
  • In the book, Gwen suggests to Hannah that she should let Isabel see Lucy. Gwen then purposefully takes Lucy to the park so that they can bump into Isabel behind Hannah’s back. Gwen tells Isabel to be patient and that she will do it again soon, but Lucy accidentally tells Hannah their secret. None of this is in the film.
  • Hannah’s father also helps with Lucy a lot more in the book. We see him taking her on a horse ride nearer the end of the film, but he tries to help out much sooner and more often in the book.
  • In the book, Isabel watches Lucy playing through some bushes the night that she disappears, so we think that she could have taken her. This isn’t hinted at in the film.
  • In the book, Isabel cries to Ralph about her guilt and he persuades her to do the right thing. In the film, it is her mum who talks her around.
  • In the book, Tom is being held at the train station when Isabel arrives. In the film, Tom is being put onto a boat.
  • In the book, Hannah throws a vase at the police officer who is encouraging her to let Tom and Isabel get off lightly. She’s not so angry in the film.
  • In the book, Tom asks Hannah to see him after he is released so that he can say thank you to her. We don’t see this in the film.

Overall Verdict:

Sometimes film adaptations of your favourite books can go awfully wrong (read my recent reviews of The Mountain Between Us!), but sometimes they can also become one of your favourite films.

The Light Between Oceans is now one of my favourite everythings!

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