The World To Come ***
Starring: Katherine Waterston, Vanessa Kirby, Casey Affleck, Christopher Abbott
Director: Mona Fastvold
In the 90s, cinema endured a spate of period romances based on a wealth of classic literature. Today, Queer cinema is catching up, with numerous period pieces depicting luscious same-sex romances from the centuries that preceded us. But with rustic farmhouses, rolled shirt-sleeves and livestock aplenty, does The World To Come stand out from its peers?
Abigail (Waterston - Inherent Vice, Fantastic Beasts) lives with her husband Dyer (Affleck - Manchester By The Sea, Gone Baby Gone) in upstate New York in the mid-nineteenth century. Mourning the loss of their young daughter, their lives are monotonous, melancholy and uneventful. That is until the arrival of young couple Tallie (Kirby - Pieces Of A Woman, The Crown) and her angry husband Finney (Abbott - It Comes At Night), the former of whom Abigail finds herself inexplicably drawn. As their friendship deepens and they dare to cross the line into romance, the pair keep their affair hidden from their respective husbands, only to spark suspicion and resentment inside their homes.
Told through the descriptive and eloquent diary entries of Abigail, there is a real literary quality about this adaptation of Jim Shepard’s short story, which he adapted himself for the screen. Her emotive voiceover contrasts with the slow subtlety of the film’s first hour, while a dramatic dischordant soundtrack creates a difficult uneasiness that unsettles right from the start. In a constant battle with the cruel elements outside, Abigail’s grief is expressed as perceived hopelessness toward their everyday lives, only for Tallie to set off a bomb within it. And as the narrative rises to match its atmosphere, the final act creates a suitably brow-beating conclusion.
Unfortunately the process of getting to the plot past the well-crafted but over-egged atmosphere takes an absolute age. And though the film is a solid piece of period filmmaking that does an excellent job at capturing the essence of the era, the plot is slight and the characters little more than a vessel for massive feelings played out through narration and a few cursory glances and fleeting breathlessness. For fans of an understated romance, this will be like cryptonite. For fans of a jolly good plot, not so much.
UK Release: out now on VOD.