Set in 1928, South Solitary (directed by Shirley Barrett) centres on Meredith (Miranda Otto), an unmarried woman in her mid-30s who accompanies her cantankerous uncle (Barry Otto) to the eponymous island when he takes up his post as head lighthouse keeper.
Their new neighbours are as frigid as the weather, though Meredith does begin to forge a tentative friendship with Nettie (Annie Martin), the daughter of Alma and Harry Stanley (Essie Davis and Rohan Nichol) and Harry, himself, is friendly and flirty from the outset. Not much is seen of Mr Fleet (Marton Csokas) until later in the film, but his seeming prickliness rankles Meredith.
The entire cast is very good and Miranda Otto is excellent in the lead as the insecure, affection-starved Meredith. Csokas’s Welsh accent leaves something to be desired – I’m not sure why he couldn’t have just been from New Zealand, exactly – but it’s not so bad that it distracts from the story nor does it distract from his compassionate performance as the shell-shocked Mr Fleet.
What could be a dour or sombre story is lightened by moments of humour and I found myself laughing out loud quite frequently, mostly at something strange one of the characters had said or done.
The film is at its best in the second half when Meredith and Mr Fleet are together and I almost wish the first half had been shorter so we could spend more time with them getting to know each other, forging their companionship. At 120 minutes it could have easily been shorter but the pacing is generally very nice and I didn’t find myself getting restless as I often do with longer films.
The love story is very real and charming. It’s lovely to watch it unfold. There is a natural awkwardness to their relationship that I enjoyed a lot. And Mr Fleet does embroidery! Be still my heart. This isn’t a typical period drama romance, it is quiet and restrained, but it is all the more charming for it. I will always feel fondly toward films about two people who have nowhere else to go, nowhere to fit in the world, finding each other.
South Solitary has been on my watchlist since it was first out at the cinema. I wish I had seen it back then as the cinematography, by Anna Howard, is just gorgeous. It would’ve been better served by the big screen than my small, outdated analogue TV but the experience was by no means ruined. The costumes are great, too.
All in all, it’s a nice little film and if it sounds even remotely interesting to anyone, I’d recommend it. Plus there is a sheep in a baby bonnet. If that doesn’t entice you to check it out, I don’t know what will!