“White women fall in love in a historical setting” has become a popular enough subgenre among prestige pictures in recent years that people are already starting to grow tired of its tropes. And some of those conventions (particularly the grim tendency of these movies to lean into tragedy) pop up yet again in the new film The World to Come. But if you can forgive such transgressions, you might appreciate the things it does differently from similar cinematic forays.
In this case, the setting is upstate New York in the mid-1800s. Abigail (Katherine Waterston) and Tally (Vanessa Kirby) are housewives living on neighboring homesteads who strike up first a friendship, and then an affair. Like many in this genre, the movie indulges in yearning in place of concrete romantic action for most of its runtime, but here it fits well with a dreamy, languid pace which director Mona Fastvold effortlessly constructs. Written by novelists Ron Hansen and Jim Shepard, the dialogue has a heavily poetic flavor that’s unusual for an American film but very welcome, particularly in Abigail’s frequent narration. This and Waterston and Kirby’s easy chemistry make The World to Come distinct among its peers.
The World to Come opens in virtual cinemas February 12.