Dreary. That’s the life of the people who inhabit this film. It’s 1859, somewhere in upstate New York, and a farmer and his wife, Abigail (Katherine Waterston, Fantastic Beasts, Steve Jobs) and Dyer (Casey Affleck, Our Friend, Manchester By the Sea) are still coming to terms with the loss of their only child, when another couple comes into their lives. The wife Tallie (Vanessa Kirby, Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw) is a welcomed distraction from sad Abigail’s drudgery. Her own marriage to Finney (Christopher Abbott) is claustrophobic, as he has a very limited view of a wife’s role. So the two women immediately click. And before you know it, they have moved from bosom buddies to lesbian lovers. And for a brief period they’re happy. But it can’t last.
The telling of the film is frequently through heavy narration, as Abigail writes in a ledger about her feelings and the hard life she’s enduring. It marks time and season. Unfortunately it also feels very forced and out of place, when the first rule of filmmaking is show not tell. The film is an adaptation of a short story by Jim Shepard, who also co-wrote the screenplay. Perhaps he was too in love with what had worked so well in the original?
But the biggest flaw of the film for me was that I did not see any chemistry between the women. It’s beautifully shot, and the actresses are good, but everything felt detached. The whole film labored under a too heavy soundtrack that tried to illicit emotions that the screenplay had forgotten. As period lesbian romances go, this one never really comes together. If you’re looking for one that works better, check out Ammonite, which came out a few months ago. This one just never allows its characters to develop. And, dare I say? I was bored.