Review of “Island” (2011)

I think I first heard about the new production of Island because I was a devoted neophyte-fan of the British TV show Merlin.  When the lead star of a favorite show pursues an indie movie production role, you’re bound to hear about it.  My reaction to Colin Morgan being cast as Calum was a bit…different.  For one thing, I pursued the novel first instead of the movie itself.  After all, at that time Island was completely unavailable in my “neighborhood,” so watching the film and then reading the book it was based on was out of the question for me.  So I used the only tool available to me: my vast imagination.  And the text of the original work by Jane Rogers.

A brief summary of my experience: for the first time, I sampled adult fiction and decided I wanted a deeper taste.  I was prepared for everything and nothing.  I took a great plunge…and I was surprised.  True, I despised the exorbitant profanity that Nikki (the main character) used, but I actually delved hard into the themes of Island and found things in the story that I…liked.  Amazing as that can sound once you read the plot synopsis of the book.  I officially reviewed Island for the Examiner with relish and felt a twinge of triumph over having conquered my fear of the adult novel.

Next, I wanted to see the movie adaptation.  Obviously, to complete my experience.  I was also curious about how certain parts of the story would be handled visually in the film:

  • the island itself
  • Nikki and Calum’s incestuous relationship
  • the murder scene
  • the fairy tales
  • Nikki’s flashbacks and her fear of the lonely darkness

First off…the Scottish Isles used as the setting are very suitable to Rogers’ descriptions.  The atmosphere of the entire film is cold, gloomy, and disturbingly tranquil;  there’s even a touch of death surrounding it, which can be expected from Nikki’s motives to go there.  Second, Natalie Press was a good visual choice for Nikki, although the screenwriter was considerate enough to cut down the character’s swearing and cursing by 75 percent.  Nikki’s subconscious fears and the background of her insane thoughts were omitted, which kept me guessing what was going on inside her head and behind her expressions at particular moments in the film.  Like during the rape scene.

Colin Morgan’s performance: he makes a very creepy Calum.  In the novel, Calum has some mental disabilities and an eye problem…he also has a lot of trouble controlling his emotions.  He’s basically an emotional bomb waiting to go off at the wrong moment.  In the movie, he’s gentler and better looking, but his motives are less clear.  I didn’t like Morgan’s Scottish accent for the role, as it was almost impossible to decipher what he was saying during the entire movie.  Thanks to my intense reading, I was able to survive the dialogues because I knew what was going to happen and what the characters basically said.

Fairy tales have a major part in Island, the novel.  However, they have a minor part in Island, the film.  Rogers featured intriguing interpretations of her own fairy tales and she retells some of them three or four different ways.  I only saw a faint glimpse of this aspect of the story during the course of the movie.

For the rape scene, the filmmakers chose to be subtle and not show much, which was commendable.  The novel describes Nikki seducing Calum but trying to stop him at the last moment.  The author blames her main character for provoking Calum and letting him take advantage of her.  In the film, Nikki pointedly gropes Calum after he gently kisses her twice…which leads to the eventual and inescapable “climax.”  What’s hard to figure out in the film is Nikki’s reaction to Calum’s unexpected action.  The ending is even more mysterious in regards to this…I sensed incestuous hints, which are not visible at all in the novel’s ending. Next, the murder.  The film draws away from the novel’s circumstances, e.g. Calum’s anger at his mother’s confession and the consequences of Nikki’s connection to him, by setting up how Calum and Nikki confront their mother.  In the film, they do it together, not separately like in the book.  I was a little disappointed, to be frank.  The movie’s murder scene was too…melodramatic.  All revelations squashed together in a matter of minutes.  And there was a complete lack of emotion from Nikki and Calum afterwards.

For those who’d like to know the real ending of the story, as the movie stops suddenly in its storytelling: Nikki goes to prison for a period of time and then returns to the island.  She and Calum set up housekeeping as siblings, while Nikki finds work on the island.  She claims she’s found peace there, a purpose there.

Nevertheless, Island does capture the darkness and severity of Jane Rogers’ words—there’s no denying that.

Natalie Gorna

5 thoughts on “Review of “Island” (2011)

  1. dustandquills January 16, 2014 / 12:12

    I watched Island no less than 20 minutes ago and was left very baffled.The main reason may have been because the whole movie was really dark (and I mean that visually); I couldn’t tell what was going on! Other than that though, the film itself made its darker themes very prominent. As you’ve pointed out, the incestuous relationship was handled quite strangely (?). Considering that this was a book that was written in the first person transitioning to a movie, I felt as though I couldn’t grasp the main character at all because there was so much missing from narrative of the movie. There were many promising aspects of it that perhaps lighting could have improved exponentially.

    I really appreciate your review for clearing up some of the things that I was left baffled about! Now to explore your blog 😀


    • Natalie Gorna January 16, 2014 / 19:24

      Hi – first off, thanks for reading and commenting on my post!

      As for “Island,” the book itself is even darker than the film itself, haunted and anguished. I like what the film did with the story, but in my honest opinion, they could have done better in general, especially with the script itself. I could feel some of Nikki’s obsessive madness during the film’s progression, but Calum became an ignored character that was quite an important motivator in the book itself, and Nikki’s resentment regarding her mother wasn’t as malevolent as in the book. All in all, the movie was not very clear about what kind of story it was telling. Plus, Nikki and Calum’s mutual love for stories was kind of left out in the film – one of the best points of the book, in fact.

      You’re very welcome – I hope my review helped in some small way. 🙂


      • dustandquills January 17, 2014 / 20:02

        I really look forward to reading the book now! Your review helped loads and I was so glad that google pointed me here. You have a fantastic blog. 🙂


        • Natalie Gorna January 17, 2014 / 20:13

          Yay! “Island” launched my tentative exploration of adult fiction, so it is quite powerful and raw in its visceral perspective of humanity – I’m sure you’ll find it fascinating. Thank you – your blog is pretty fantastic too, and I will be reading it from now on!


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