An exquisitely rendered period tale, The World To Come is a slow-burning but ultimately rewarding drama of the heart.
It’s set in mid-19th-century upstate New York: a world of bleak midwinters and daily drudgery, especially for Abigail (Katherine Waterston), wife to Dyer (Casey Affleck), as she struggles to keep their farm running. The loss of their daughter has opened an emotional chasm between them – one that may never be filled.
Employing (a lot of) voiceover narration (mostly comprising Abigail’s diary entries), the story offers green shoots of hope when a new couple arrive on the scene – Tallie (Vanessa Kirby) and her brutish husband Kinney (Christopher Abbott). The reserved Abigail is immediately drawn to her female counterpart and the two become inseparable, as friendship and more blossoms from beneath the permafrost of their daily lives.
Adapted by Jim Shepard from his 2017 short story, working here with novelist Ron Hansen, The World To Come is handled with great sensitivity by director Mona Fastvold (2014’s The Sleepwalkers), best known for co-scripting Brady Corbet’s The Childhood Of A Leader and Vox Lux. Here, shooting on 16mm, with wintry Romania doubling for the States, she flourishes as a filmmaker, showing real nuance in her handling of the material.
The authentic depiction of the sheer toil of 1850s farm life is expertly balanced by the warmth of two women finding solace in each other. Waterston and Kirby offer elegant portrayals, just as their male co-stars strive to find dimensions and not cardboard villainy in their characters.
The obvious comparison is Brokeback Mountain, but World forges its own path in a tale where tragedy and heartbreak linger in the air.