The World To Come (4 stars)

The World To Come

Katherine Waterston and Vanessa Kirby fall head over heels in hostile times

The lot of a 19th century woman is devastatingly explored in this beautifully articulated, elegantly shot and unapologetically romantic film from Mona Fastvold, based on Jim Shepard's short story and penned by Shepard and Ron Hansen (the author of The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford ). Katherine Waterston and Vanessa Kirby play doomed lovers Abigail and Tallie, while Casey Affleck and Christopher Abbott take a backseat as their suspicious spouses.

Set in 1856 in the then-wilds of Schoharie County, New York, Abigail and her husband Dyer (Affleck) are on their knees emotionally following the death of their young daughter and the joyless drudgery of farm work hasn't helped. Spying Tallie, the flame-haired wife of neighbouring farmer Finney (Abbott), sets Abigail's poor heart aflutter, and the feeling is evidently mutual. These two unhappy wives become infatuated friends, with more in the offing. 'Every morning I wake up and think I never want to be far from you,' Tallie admits, before the women enter into a full-blown affair.

In a nod to its literary origins, the meat of the story is communicated in Abigail's poetic narration, which assumes the form of diary entries. The film is precisely written and affectingly confessional; such a heavy reliance on voiceover can be intrusive or tediously expositional, here it illuminates the little understood plight of the kind of woman who has been written out of history, taking us into the confidence of this taciturn, ordinary and oppressed character, so that we might fully know and share in her pain.

The World To Come
bears some comparison to the recent, and frequently excellent, Ammonite but its franker approach to feelings and striking screenplay lends it the edge. Waterston and Kirby make for a heartbreakingly anguished pair, with Waterston particularly fine as she gives us despondency, giddiness and despair. As well as being deeply touching, Fastvold's film is also tremendously tense, given our understanding of the era and the ominously watchful men, one thing is for sure: this will not end well.

Available to watch in cinemas from Friday 23 July.

The World to Come

  • 4 stars
  • 2020
  • US
  • 1h 38min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Mona Fastvold
  • Written by: Ron Hansen, Jim Shepard
  • Cast: Pamela Koffler, David Hinojosa, Casey Affleck, Whitaker Lader, Margarethe Baillou

In the 19th century American Northwest, farmer's wife Abigail (Katherine Waterston) finds companionship and comfort in her new neighbour Tallie (Vanessa Kirby). Their husbands, withdrawn Dyer (Casey Affleck) and controlling Finney (Christopher Abbott) struggle with the women's newfound intimacy.