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Under the Lighthouse Dancing

Alyrical but lightweight tale of love and loss, "Under the Lighthouse Dancing" is visually beautiful but surprisingly emotionally sterile, given its surefire material. Based on a true story, film boasts winning performances that are largely wasted because of a seriously undeveloped screenplay by first-time director Graeme Rattigan and producer David Giles. Theatrical bookings look doubtful for this tear-jerker, which opened Sept. 25 Down Under, but small-screen and vid sales are indicated.

Alyrical but lightweight tale of love and loss, “Under the Lighthouse Dancing” is visually beautiful but surprisingly emotionally sterile, given its surefire material. Based on a true story, film boasts winning performances that are largely wasted because of a seriously undeveloped screenplay by first-time director Graeme Rattigan and producer David Giles. Theatrical bookings look doubtful for this tear-jerker, which opened Sept. 25 Down Under, but small-screen and vid sales are indicated.

Emma (Jacqueline McKenzie), her older lover, Harry (Jack Thompson), and Louise (Naomi Watts), Emma’s best friend, set off on the boat owned by Harry’s friend David (Aden Gillett). The quartet plan to spend a weekend on Rocknest Island, off the West Australian coast, with their friends Garth (Philip Holder), a doctor, and Juliet (Zoe Bertram), who live in a spectacular clifftop house.

Right from the start, script problems assert themselves, as no information is provided about the principal characters. Harry and Emma seem an unlikely couple, and we never learn anything about them, leaving them blank pages that the actors struggle to fill.

For the first 40 minutes or so, pic meanders along, apparently seduced by the sunshine, the scenery and the beautiful people. Emma announces that she and Harry plan to marry that weekend on the island, but Harry has made no arrangements for the ceremony, and both local clergymen say it can’t be done on such short notice.

Then Emma abruptly reveals that she’s terminally ill, with little time left, and immediately everyone rallies round to make the wedding happen. Calls are made to the mainland, credit cards are abused, and, next morning, a shipload of food, entertainers and wedding party paraphernalia arrives. David, as captain of his boat, marries the couple in a conveniently empty church, and the island’s population turns out in force for the big bash that follows.

An epilogue suggests the filmmakers were aiming at some sort of mystical, or spiritual, experience. But these elements come across as hokey, and aren’t as moving as they might have been if the characters had been successfully developed.

Given the thinness of the material, that the film works at all is due to the actors. Thompson is delightful as the affable, generous and somewhat naive Harry. The ethereal McKenzie is lovely as the doomed Emma, while Watts is a knockout as the loyal Louise.

Paul Murphy’s location lensing makes optimum use of the idyllic island location, and Laurence Eastwood’s production design is of the highest order. Nerida Tyson-Chew’s music score works hard to paper over the gaps in the material.

Under the Lighthouse Dancing

(AUSTRALIAN)

  • Production: A Silver Turtle production, with the assistance of the Lotteries Commission of West Australia. (International sales: Beyond Films, Sydney.) Produced by David Giles. Executive producers, Suridah Jalaluddin, Graeme Rattigan. Co-executive producer, John Fiocco. Directed by Graeme Rattigan. Screenplay, Rattigan, David Giles. Camera (Atlab color), Paul Murphy; editor, David Stiven; music, Nerida Tyson-Chew; production design, Laurence Eastwood; costumes, Jacqueline Allen; sound, Ross Linton; line producer, Jane Scott; associate producer, Ed Punchard; assistant director, Keith Heygate; casting, Liz Mullinar. Reviewed at Leura screening room, Leura, April 19, 1997. (In Cannes Film Festival --- market.) Running time: 93 MIN.
  • With: Harry ..... Jack Thompson Emma ..... Jacqueline McKenzie Louise ..... Naomi Watts David ..... Aden Gillett Garth ..... Philip Holder Juliet ..... Zoe Bertram