South Solitary trailer and interview with writer-director Shirley Barrett
South Solitary is a tiny, remote island in the Southern Ocean pounded by the Roaring Forties, with a lighthouse plonked on its clifftops for the benefit of occasional sea traffic. It’s 1928. The population of the island has recently declined from 7 to 6, with the death of the head lighthouse keeper. Enter the deceased’s irascible and pedantic replacement, George Wadsworth (Barry Otto) and his niece, Meredith (Miranda Otto).
Meredith is an overgrown Orphan Annie; her disagreeable uncle is the only family she has – the only anyone she has, actually, after losing her fiancee in WW1. Rather Dickensian setup, if she wasn’t in her 30s. Thing is, she has a bright, bubbly personality and is physically attractive. It doesn’t make sense that she’s tagging along with her uncle to a lonely post on a godforsaken rock in the middle of the scowling sea.
The plausibility issues do not stop there. Only days after her arrival, Meredith is seduced in her quarters with a minimum of effort (and art) by philandering husband and assistant lighthouse keeper, Harry (Rohan Nichol), whose wife and kids are domiciled a stone’s throw away. Unsurprisingly, they’re busted in coitus (and a particularly rough brand of rogering it is) by one of Harry’s kids.
We learn subsequently of Meredith’s self-declared ‘weakness’: a craving for affection. That hardly explains away her brazen and stupid sexual indiscretion, and again begs the question as to why she’s with her cold, cantankerous uncle in such a desolate, isolated locale. She isn’t going to find affection there…or is she?
When Harry and family leave the island and miserable George miserably expires, Meredith is left with only the war-traumatised and infuriatingly taciturn Welshman, Fleet (Marton Csokas), for company. A hurricane confines them to the lighthouse for several days and nights, and slowly they begin to bond…
The acting performances are good, the fine costuming creates an air of Victorian authenticity, and the cinematography exploits the drama of the bleak but spectacular landscape and the enthralling interior of the magnificent old lighthouse. However, the film doesn’t work.
The writing is fuzzy, dipping into all sorts of possibilities without committing to any of them. There are some comedic moments that suggest a light-hearted direction that is not subsequently pursued. The gentle relationship that develops as Meredith coaxes poor, damaged Fleet out of his psychological solitary confinement is left in a Mills and Boonish dot dot dot state that contrasts jarringly with the earlier sex scene.
In the end, we are left with little more than an atmospheric piece (and a bloody slow-moving one): by far the best aspects of South Solitary are the stunning geographical setting and the lighthouse.
For other Boomtown Rap movie reviews, see Movie Review Archives