Well, Brit actress Vanessa Kirby is having quite a run over the past four years or so. After being primarily a theatre actress she then a few years back began a run with Netflix’s The Crown as Princess Margaret and has followed that up with films like Mission Impossible – Fallout, Mr. Jones, Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw, and a stunning (and I am sure, soon to be Oscar nominated) performance in 2020’s Pieces of a Woman, for which she won the Best Actress trophy at last year’s Venice Film Festival. Period pieces. Straight drama and action films. She seems able to do anything. I think it is not an overstatement to say that we are seeing the dawning of one of the best young actresses coming out of England for her age.
All that said, Mona Fastvold’s (The Sleepwalker) The World to Come is not exactly a barn burner. In several ways. The tone is rather grey in look and atmosphere. Rare flints of light are able to stream through during the 105 minute run time. This will probably wear most who watch down to a raw nub. Now do not read that and go away with the thought that this is a poor film, for it is not. But it most certainly is not everyone’s cup of tea.
With Romania standing in for New York state in the mid-19th century, the land and landscape is like another character here alongside the two couples. It is as harsh and rough as the realtionships involved, but there is always a chance for true beauty. We get lots of cold weather and a couple of storms which give you a window into how tought it was for people trying to make a living off the land at this period. The work was long and hard. This left little time or energy to put into constructing healthy loving realtionships.
With this I mean heterosexual couplings. If you were gay, you were pretty much shit out of luck. Whatever slim chance there was it sent down even further if you were a woman. Women did not have much mandate over their own lives. They were there to service their husband, provide children then take care of the family. If you aere a woman who were atrracted to or loved women you definitely had to hide that.
The marriage of Abigail (Katherine Waterston – Inherent Vice, Alien: Covenant) and Dyer (Casey Affleck – Gone Baby Gone, Ocean’s Thirteen) is a decent one though overshadowed by the death of their infant daughter the year previous. There is a sadness which envelopes Abigail which disallows her quiet husband from reaching her. Still, life goes on and the continue to work their land each performing their gender assigned tasks.
Some warmth and companionship comes enters into Abigail’s life and demeanour with the appearance of Tallie (Vanessa Kirby). Finney (Christopher Abbott – Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, Vox Lux) and his wife, the long raven haired Tallie, have rented the farm adjacent to Abigail and Dyrer’s. After their first meeting, soon the two women are spending time together every day as Tallie comes to visit Abigail to help with her chores and chat.
Over time the two become close and increasingly dependent upon one another. If Abigail does not see Tallie for a few days she misses her. Both husbands, Dyer and Finney, have remarked upon the growing friendship with Finney being more harsh about it. As the days go on the intimacy grows and blossoms into something more. Something they both are hesitant about but desire with their whole hearts.
Somber almost throughout, The World to Come does lead up to believe that it is a world in which change concerning women being allowed to love who they love to be coming any time soon.
Set up with narration from what Waterston’s Abigail writes in her journals, the story does not offer much hope. What it does give to viewers are strong performances by the two female leads. They have a chemsitry which is palpable. Showing how the isolation of women on the East Coast frontier was pervasive no matter your social status.
Lushly poetic, the words of Abigail and the dialogue between the two women are bright points. Elevated yet again by how Waterston and Kirby deliver them. Through her largely restrained performance is what is called for, she does really convey how Tallie becomes to her the possibility of another kind of existence. An existence of love and companionship. OF two people building a life – together not in the typical parallel way. Kirby’s Tallie is like a jolt of electricity in this setting. Showing her talent, Kirby does not make the redhead all whizzbam. Rather she is shown to be a risk taker who tries to break free from the female box in a natural way.
I did admire that though the women’s love is allowed to exist, it does so in the shadows. The two women live in fear of what is blossoming being discovered. They are hestitant with every move they make. Even the more self assured Tallie. Every snap of a brank or footsteps on the porch causes them to jump. Being together means danger. Especially for Tallie with her unpredictable husband.
Realistically the connection between the two women simmers then boils. Fastvold stays patient with her love story and expects us to as well. Rather organically built the two actresses totally buy in. The fault comes, or maybe the hard part to swallow after wading through all the grey, when the story, once the light has been allowed to flicker, turns back towards the dour. So much so that you almost forget the love. Too big of an ask in my books.