review for To the Lighthouse on AllMovie

To the Lighthouse (1983)
by Mike Cummings review

To the Lighthouse holds a magnifying glass to the human psyche. What matters is what happens inside the characters. External events, regardless of their significance to the world at large, are trivial. The cerebrum -- and all the synapses that drive human action -- is everything. In a manner of speaking, To the Lighthouse is a brain scan that X-rays thought processes and displays them in a tirade or a temper tantrum, in the swing of a cricket bat or the stroke of a paintbrush. The BBC produced the film in 1983 in typical style: a strong cast, a good script, and a bargain-basement mise-en-scéne. The production is daring, for it attempts to capture in images a virtually plotless Virginia Woolf novel, the meaning of which critics have been debating since its publication in 1927. Michael Gough performs brilliantly as the autocratic father and husband who imposes his will on his household at a time in early 20th century England when society convulses with changes challenging male domination and class traditions. Rosemary Harris is affecting as the wife and mother who works hard to keep the family together, earn everyone's love, and find meaning in life. In a pivotal role as Lily Briscoe, who chooses spinsterhood in order to pursue painting, Suzanne Bertish is reserved and understated, but as full of resolve as a quiet volcano. As Mr. Ramsay's guest, atheist Charles Tansley, Kenneth Branaugh aptly represents the arrogant, assertive male of the times. The film and the novel do not yield easily to definitive interpretations. Some find To the Lighthouse fascinating; others dismiss it as bosh.