If I didn’t know better, I would have sworn The Light Between Oceans was based on an old novel by Thomas Hardy or someone of his era who wrote this kind of intensely dramatic, almost soapy stories, but it’s based on M.L. Steadman’s 2012 international bestseller. Hardy would be proud. Whatever the source, I was taken with writer-director Derek Cianfrance’s film adaptation. It has the feel of classic storytelling and has been turned into a motion picture that is complex, human and immensely entertaining. As I say in my video review above, it also helps that it has superb performances.

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Cianfrance, whose previous films have been brooding and contemporary dramas such as Blue Valentine and The Place Beyond The Pines, has channeled his inner David Lean to bring this sweepingly tragic tale to life. Let’s do a shout-out for the magnificent cinematography of Adam Arkapaw and the lush music of Alexandre Desplat, both helping to set the mood of this film set in post-World War I western Australia, where lighthouse keeper Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender) moves into the desolate location with his young wife Isabelle (Alicia Vikander). After sad and failed attempts to have a child of their own, one day a baby comes floating into their lives via a rowboat in which the child is accompanied by a deceased man. Tom feels they have to find out what happened and get the baby back to whomever she belongs. Isabelle, full of maternal longing, convinces him that they should keep the baby and bring her up as their own. After all, who would ever know?

As with any good potboiler, things get complicated. When Tom is on a visit to town years later, he comes across a grieving woman (Rachel Weisz) hunched over a gravestone in a cemetery. When she leaves he sees the grave says “lost at sea” and immediately realizes he has just come upon the mother of the child — now 4 years old and named Lucy — that he and Isabelle have been bringing up. The plot moves swiftly from there, building to a crescendo of tragic consequences for their actions.

Fans of such movies as last year’s remake of Far From The Madding Crowd will find this all to be a beautiful and heartbreaking movie despite the leisurely pace, particularly in the first half, that Cianfrance employs over the 135-minute running time. Vikander, coming off her Oscar win for The Danish Girl, is extraordinary again here, as is the brilliant Weisz. Fassbender, nicely understated, delivers some of his finest screen work. David Heyman and Jeffrey Clifford produced the fine-looking film, which will play in competition Thursday night at the Venice Film Festival. Touchstone Pictures releases it in the U.S. on Friday.

Do you plan to see The Light Between Oceans? Let us know what you think.