Dunedin plays its part in period piece

Warrington’s St Barnabas Church stars in The Light Between Oceans. Photo: supplied.
Warrington’s St Barnabas Church stars in The Light Between Oceans. Photo: supplied.
One of our own hit the big time in Hollywood recently, an actor who might be on the up. Yes, it was Dunedin itself that played a big part in emotional tear-jerker The Light Between Oceans, partly filmed in the city in 2014. David Loughrey  attended the cinema to look for Dunedin bits.

A seagull soared over the southern ocean, rising high above the cliffs where Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander were busy suffering from the most grievous emotions.

Rachel Weisz stars alongside Port Chalmers in The Light Between Oceans. Photo: Craig Baxter.
Rachel Weisz stars alongside Port Chalmers in The Light Between Oceans. Photo: Craig Baxter.
It was a moment of high drama in the recently released movie The Light Between Oceans, where miscarried babies were laid to rest in the cruel dry granite of the lonely lighthouse keepers’ wind-punished isle.

Fassbender (playing the square-jawed hunk Tom Sherbourne) and Vikander (playing Isabel Graysmark Sherbourne) were putting their all into a gripping and engrossing performance in which emotions of an intensity so painfully raw threaten the very relationship between the earth and the heavens that ... hang on, I recognise that seagull!

Wasn’t it the one to which my cousin’s friend, Gerald Fishman, of Mornington, fed some bread at the Botanic Garden last summer?

It could be; it had a similar sort of black and white markings and a beak that looks just the same.

Yes, that’s the one.

Nicely played, Dunedin seagull.

The camera cuts from the clifftop (which could be near Taiaroa Head, it’s hard to tell), out to the ocean where a pale sun is dissolving into the horizon, symbolising, no doubt, the end of life, the death of hope as Tom and Isobel’s solitary island existence and her lonely miscarriages drive their despair to pathological ... hang on!

That’s the Dunedin coast!

The sun looks just like that when it dissolves into the horizon if you are standing on the cliffs above Long Beach looking in a sort of northerly direction towards Oamaru.

I’m sure it is.

Nicely played Dunedin, nicely played.

If you haven’t seen The Light Between Oceans (look away now if you know what spoiler alert means), it is a movie about an attractive woman with beautiful teeth and a handsome fellow with a square jaw who washes up on the coast of West Australia.

He, a traumatised war hero, meets her, a lovely local girl.

He gets a job as a lighthouse keeper.

She has brown eyes, he, a moustache.

He is mature, she has earlobes that are attached to her head.

He leaves for the island where he wears a big lighthouse keeper’s jersey, looks all 1920s rustic, tends to the animals, digs the garden and writes her love letters.

She writes back.

Both stare winsomely towards the other across the barren seascape.

Then they get married.


The beautiful and spiritual consummation driven by the longing and desire felt in every human heart, a perfect connection of two people in the eyes of their God, the bedrock relationship this world is built ... hang on, that’s St Barnabas Church at Warrington!

No way.

My friend Stanton McGruber got married there in 1993.

My elderly Uncle Barry lives nearby in Park Rd.

Or is it Hill Rd?

But doesn’t it look lovely, the tiled roof, the little cross above the arched green doorways, the adjacent graveyard and the trees that overhang and protect this lovely little spot.

Well played, Dunedin.

The couple move to the island to keep the lighthouse, where they wear big coats, have clumsy sex and pash off  a lot.

Then come the miscarriages, the first, then the second, then the despair.

And then — a dinghy washes up on the beach with a dead man and a baby crying and it seems as if God has stepped in to deliver what nature has not, and despite misgivings and a quiet realisation of serious wrongdoing they pretend the child is theirs, and live for five happy years as the parents they wanted to be.

But on a trip back to the mainland there is a grieving mother by a grave.


Poor dear beautiful Hannah Roennfeldt (Rachel Weisz) weeps for her dead husband and the baby the pair have claimed as their own, as gnawing guilt, the dark shades of remorse and the terrible reality of the couple’s deception reaches a crescendo of ... hang on, that’s Port Chalmers!

It’s Grey St!

Great God!

Rachel Weisz, who is dead famous, is striding along the dusty footpath of the steep little street, past historic brick homes where people live.

Doesn’t it look excellent; as historic as you like.

And look you, there’s the inside of the former Dunedin Prison, as poor Fassbender sits broken behind the steel bars.


Well played, Dunedin.

The Light Between Oceans drifts on to its terrible conclusion as broken people play out their broken lives, mitigated only a little by small acts of human kindness along the way.But someone dies, their suffering unresolved.

Elderly women snivel sadly in the Metro Cinema as the lights come up on a wet Thursday afternoon.

The men have already wiped some loose moisture from their lids quickly in the dark, they feel ashamed and will admit to not a soul their emotions were affected in the slightest.

The credits roll, and if you stay to the very end, you discover the producers have thanked "the residents of Dunedin".

You’re welcome.

Thank you, sir!

Well played, Dunedin, well played.


Great to see Rachel Weisz playing alongside Port Chalmers. Has Ms Chalmers been in pictures before?