Handsomely crafted period romance The World To Come boasts 'sensual lead performances' from Katherine Waterston and Vanessa Kirby
THE WORLD TO COME (15, 95 mins) Romance/Drama. Katherine Waterston, Vanessa Kirby, Casey Affleck, Christopher Abbott. Director: Mona Fastvold.
Released: July 23
THE heart desires what it cannot have in director Mona Fastvold's swooning period romance, adapted for the screen by Ron Hansen and Jim Shepard from one of the short stories in his acclaimed 2017 collection.
Handsomely crafted and blessed with sensual lead performances from Katherine Waterston and Vanessa Kirby, The World To Come sustains numerous paper cuts from its source material with a heavy reliance on the voiceover narration of diary entries to convey a female character's fluctuating emotions.
These prosaic musings, which bookmark changing seasons in 1856 upstate New York with jarring frequency, are artful – "My self-education seems the only way to keep my unhappiness from overwhelming me" – but they interrupt the narrative flow and deny actors an opportunity to convey inner turmoil with their eyes and gestures.
Cinema speaks a different and equally rich language to literature but Fastvold's picture gets tongue-tied in translation. Director of photography Andre Chemetoff complements the omnipresent inner monologue with colour-bleached images of a pastoral idyll at the mercy of Mother Nature.
A sequence in a swirling blizzard is particularly striking, contrasting the hushed darkness of an outbuilding where one character seeks shelter with the roaring expanse of white that greets another as they venture into the storm with a rope tied around their waist to tether them to home.
Set on the East Coast frontier, the story pivots initially around hard-working farmer Dyer (Casey Affleck) and wife Abigail (Waterston). It has been a year since diphtheria wrenched four-year-old Nellie from the couple's loving arms and they never speak about their loss.
Dyer and Abigail are desperately lonely in each other's company, sharing a breakfast of a freshly baked potato in silence before they fulfil duties on the farm then retire to opposite sides of a cold marital bed.
When hog farmer Finney (Christopher Abbott) and flame-haired wife Tallie (Kirby) rent a neighbouring property, Abigail finally has someone to talk to. Sisterhood kindles sparks forbidden passion and Abigail and Tallie embark on an affair that softens the drudgery of their everyday existence.
Dyer observes changes in Abigail's countenance.
"I would die without you," he whispers to his wife as the couple share a rare bedtime embrace.
"Then you are safe, because I am here," she plaintively responds.
The World To Come is a painterly study of female desire that works most effectively when Abigail neglects to take up her diarist's pen.
Stylised dialogue has a pleasing rhythm and lyrical quality. The on-screen electrical charge between Waterston and Kirby is palpable and Fastvold's direction revels in lingering glances and stolen touches. Wild sexual abandon is reserved for a montage of mournful recollection.
By virtue of Abigail's narration, Abbott's supposedly abusive spouse is confined to a handful of scenes and feels malnourished in the company of other weather-beaten characters.