Jerzy Skolimowski’s The Lightship is based on a novella by the highly regarded German writer Siegfried Lenz. It was filmed in West Germany on the island of Sylt with an all English-speaking cast, the story transferred from its North Sea setting to the coastal waters off Norfolk.
The setting is the only seaworthy lightship left, and it’s on this precarious wreck that everything takes place. The other major plus is the acting duel between Robert Duvall and Klaus Maria Brandauer, both with thespian styles of their own and in direct contrast to each other. Since the roles of the hijacker Caspary and the Coast Guard captain Miller had to be switched before shooting began, one senses a battle of wits all the way down the line.
Further, Skolimowski is notorious for improvisation himself, so the script reportedly went through three changes – in addition to adding a saving narrative commentary on the editing table.
As a psychological thriller, The Lightship has its tense entertainment moments, but the narrative line takes so many detours that the problem is trying to figure out the non sequiturs as they surface out of nowhere.