NOTE: This review of Sofia Coppola’s film The Beguiled is written from the POV of someone coming to the material for the first time. Jessica has not [yet] seen the 1971 version starring Clint Eastwood, Elizabeth Hartman & Geraldine Page. For more from the POV of someone who has seen the 1971 version, click HERE to read review by FF2 Editor-in-Chief Jan Lisa Huttner.
Written and directed by Sofia Coppola, The Beguiled is a brilliantly acted, and visually stunning, remake of the 1971 film of the same name which was originally based on the 1966 novel by Thomas Cullinan. (JEP: 4/5)
Review by Executive Editor Jessica E. Perry
Young “Amy” (Oona Laurence, Little Boxes) discovers a wounded Union solider “John McBurney” (Colin Farrell) in the woods while picking mushrooms. Unable to leave him behind, the young girl shoulders the heavy weight of the man and helps carry him to the apparent safety of the Confederate girls boarding school where she stays. John passes out from pain and loss of blood when they arrive, and as Amy screams for help, the rest of the girls come pouring out of the grand Southern home, led by the school’s headmistress, “Martha Farnsworth” (Nicole Kidman).
Martha immediately takes charge, and after deciding that the right thing to do is help him recover from his injury before turning him over to the Confederate army, she tasks each of the remaining five girls at the school and their teacher, “Edwina Dabney” (Kirsten Dunst), to gather bandages and tools to sew up the soldier’s leg.
As John recovers, the girls and women alike become fascinated by their unexpected guest, a welcome distraction from the monotony of their studies and the war that has confined them to the school. Conflicted with how long to let the enemy soldier stay, and seeking to ensure the safety of her girls, Martha tends to John daily as he recovers. Yet the faint sound of gun and cannon fire serve as an ever-present reminder and warning to her decision.
John takes notice of Edwina, pressing on past her shyness and insisting that she is the “most delicate beauty” he’s ever seen. But the promiscuous “Alicia” (Elle Fanning), the oldest of the students, takes her own interest in John, kissing him in his sleep and sharing stolen glances with the solider.
Soon enough, Martha deems John well enough to leave, and gives him through the end of the week to depart. John, having taken to tending the garden, tries to persuade Martha of his usefulness, but suspicious of where his loyalties lie, and his intentions with both her and her girls, Martha is not convinced. With his upcoming departure, the tone changes, and John professes love for Edwina, asking her not only to run away with him, but to enter her bed that coming evening. But when Edwina finds him, instead, in the bed of Alicia, in a moment of rage and passion, everything changes. The women scorned are forced to take drastic action when their once safe haven from the war turns to something sinister.
Marketed as a dramatic thriller, the pacing of the film is slow, and yet appropriate, for what the film actually is, a period drama. Coppola takes her time, slowly and purposefully moving through the narrative. The actors, likewise, throw themselves into the time period in mannerism, behavior, and speech; the care taken by both the filmmakers and actors aptly building the world. The film is further elevated by its chilling score and stunning cinematography, setting it apart as a standalone film, instead of being regarded as just another remake. One must applaud Coppola for her choices, her win for best director at Cannes (only the second female director to take home the award) undoubtedly deserved.
Top Photo: Martha (Nicole Kidman) descends the stairs to answer an unwelcome knock at the door.
Middle Photo: John and Alicia (Elle Fanning) steal forbidden glances.
Bottom Photo: The women pray for their safety and for the brave soldiers risking their lives in the war.
Photo Credits: Ben Rothstein
Although many of the conversations revolve around their male guest, the girls work on their studies and speak of their work, chores, and sewing.