The Shipping News is about a family coming to terms with its ancestry and healing from hurts inflicted long ago at the hands of one man, who is both Quoyle’s (Kevin Spacey’s) father and the half-brother of Kevin’s older aunt, played by Judi Dench.
Quoyle is introduced as an oft-abused boy who grows up to work as an ink setter in the newspaper industry. He is a mild man with low self-esteem and low self-confidence, but whom his future mate Petal, played by Cate Blanchett, takes a liking to. The result is their daughter Bunny. After a tragic end for Petal, when Quoyle’s aunt shows up after his father’s death, the three head for their ancestral home in Newfoundland, and enter a new life.
Quoyle only knows the newspaper world, and when he seeks employment at the local newspaper he is assigned a writing job as the editor of the shipping news. His self confidence grows as his self-expression flowers, and the family deals with metaphorical and literal ghosts from their past as Quoyle learns the sordid history of his family from the gossipy mouths of the villagers, and as his aunt is forced to share the family secrets with him.
Quoyle meets a lovely woman with a hidden past of her own, played by Julianne Moore. She is the only actor who seems cast out of place, much too pretty and refined for such a rugged setting. The film is directed by Lasse Hallstrom of The Cider House Rules fame, and under his skillful direction, the film is a healing journey unfolding before our eyes. The house the three move to seems to have a personality of its own, at once sinister and foreboding. The stark landscape and weather of the seaside village penetrates to the bone; it is portrayed as so cold and damp, you can feel it in your seat.
This is a fine film to watch if you want an intelligent study of a family healing from the tragedies of the past and moving onward to a healthier life for themselves. One by one, the doors are opened, viewed, and shut forever by these participants in life, seeking answers to the age old questions of, “Who am I?” and “Where did I come from?” Satisfying from beginning to end, with thankfully, a few moments of humor (the references to seal flipper pie are quite amusing). Because after all, life is not just about work and duty, but also about how we can laugh in spite of what comes our way, often unbidden. This film is a drama, with elements of suspense. I highly recommend it.