As maritime mysteries go, it’s hardly Flannan Isle – although it did result in a change in lighthouse policy, and as a piece of Welsh history, it is no doubt important. As the two man team of Thomas Griffith (Jones) and Thomas Howell (Jibson), already known not to get along prior to the events in question, arrive on the isolated rock for a one month tour of duty, it immediately becomes apparent that Howell isn’t popular with the departing team either. Griffith is a terse man and Howell a timid one, and the picture Crow paints is of two men who have little reason beyond the job to interact. Three weeks into the assignment a storm descends the likes of which neither has before seen, causing the two Thomases – unable to contact land – to continue working amid appalling conditions and with rapidly dwindling supplies, and with no clue as to when and whether their replacements will arrive.
When one of the Thomases is killed in an unfortunate accident, fearful of being blamed for his colleague’s death the other is driven insane in keeping the light going entirely unaided.
The most fascinating aspect of Crow’s film is the dichotomy between the two characters, each feeling a sense of ultimate responsibility for differing reasons, one tragedy driving Howell towards religion and another sending Griffith in the other direction. Although this underpins the entire story, it’s something there isn’t really the opportunity to fully investigate thanks to the barriers that keep the men from talking; even after the storm has hit interactions are limited by Griffith’s lack of social abilities.
It is, therefore, for Crow to show us rather than telling us his story, and in this respect, The Lighthouse is mostly effective. The acting and especially the photography, for what is essentially a low-budget film, are exemplary, but with very little light to offset the shade – but physically and metaphorically – it’s a film that’s often difficult to engage with emotionally. The surviving Thomas’ mental breakdown is elliptically conveyed through the repetition of certain triggers that were already driving his emotional state prior to the accident, but with the story now reduced to just the one character (albeit alongside his mental projections of his dead associate) there’s an increasing reliance on external phenomena to illustrate the man’s condition.
The Lighthouse is certainly a story that was worth telling, but ultimately the result is something that is as much an academic success as a functional one.
Extras: Cast and crew interviews, On location, Behind the scenes, Alternate opening titles, trailers
THE LIGHTHOUSE / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: CHRIS CROW / SCREENPLAY: PAUL BRYANT, CHRIS CROW, MICHAEL JIBSON / STARRING: MICHAEL JIBSON, MARK LEWIS JONES / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW