BEGUILED, THE (2017)
At a girls' school in Virginia during the Civil War, where the young women have been sheltered from the outside world, a wounded Union soldier is taken in. Soon, the house is taken over with sexual tension, rivalries, and an unexpected turn of events.
Review by Louise Keller:
Filled with stunning imagery, Sofia Coppola's beautifully realized remaking of The Beguiled is a tantalizing and tense morality tale, its underlying themes of sexual repression effectively echoing the film's angst-ridden soundscape. All the action takes place within the frame; it is easy to be seduced by the look of the film with its ethereal woods, candle-lit interiors and female characters that are as frustrated as they are stitched up in their corsets and rustling petticoats. Engrossing from start to finish, the power of the film is in its subtlety and understatement, allowing us to engage with the characters in the context of its 1864 setting and understand the unspoken rivalries between the women and girls. Every shot is breathtaking: Coppola captures the beauty of the setting with its picture perfect landscapes moody interiors and contained emotions.
Based on a novel by Thomas Cullinan, Coppola's film has a totally different feel to that of Don Siegel's 1971 adaptation starring Clint Eastwood in the Colin Farrell role. It could be said the former offers far more provocation for the action. Additionally, the dynamic is different in that the women are mostly plain; it is Eastwood, who is the beauty. Coppola's cast is exclusively easy on the eye. Winner of the Cannes 2017 Best Director Award, Coppola is clearly in her comfort zone. There are echoes of her assured directing debut, The Virgin Suicides (2000) in which she explored impressionable adolescence and the loss of innocence.
There's an enticing synergy between the film's beginning and end. The story begins with young Amy (Laurence) picking mushrooms in a forest so beautiful, it could be enchanted. It is there she discovers the wounded Yankee soldier Corporal John McBurney (Farrell) and takes him back to the seminary, where austere headmistress Miss Farnsworth (Nicole Kidman) tends his wound, clearly relishing the task of sponging down the handsome soldier's body. 'Bravery is doing what is needed at the time,' she says.
John is the catalyst for change and everything changes as the women and girls vie for his attention. There is apple pie with lashings of cream at the first dinner at which all the girls dress up and try to impress their guest. They are all keen to ensure they get some credit: Amy has picked the apples; Alicia (Fanning) has baked the pie; the recipe belongs to Edwina (Dunst). Most credible is the burgeoning relationship between John and Edwina (this is Dunst's third film with Coppola).
The action is trimmed to bare minimum during the film's crisp 94 minutes. Actions have consequences. If I have a criticism, it is that the all-important climactic sequence, when everything comes to a head all too quickly, I felt as though I had missed out on something.
All the performances are excellent with special mention to Dunst, who is especially convincing. Farrell gives little away as to his intentions. Cinematography is superb as is the soundscape, which never intrudes but is always present. The film is devoid of music per se - just monotonic chords with wavering notes among the natural sounds of birds and the landscape. It's a formidable accomplishment and an exquisite film.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Exhibiting the same subtle yet sharp stabs of humour that distinguished her Lost in Translation (2003), Sofia Coppola has fashioned a film that is even more beautiful than her The Virgin Suicides (1999). It is also a lot more restrained than the 1971 adaptation of the novel directed by Don Siegel and starring Clint Eastwood as the wounded Yankee soldier taken in by the Southerners at a nearly-abandoned seminary for young ladies. In design, especially costumes, it is at least as superbly executed as her Marie Antoinette (2006) and the locations are stunning.
That earlier adaptation of the Thomas Cullinan novel plays more like a straightforward drama, albeit with all its moral questions intact, whereas Coppola elevates the emotional battle between the jealous young women to a more mythical level. Dare I say it's more beguiling... This mood is helped by sensationally beautiful cinematography (on 35 mm film) by Frenchman Philippe Le Sourd, with whom she has made several TV commercials.
Kirsten Dunst is heartbreaking as the tragic Edwina but to me, it's Elle Fanning who walks away with the acting honours in a role that is deftly subversive and conniving, directly sexual and self centred. Her Alicia is the catalyst for the drama that engulfs the seminary when Corporal John McBurney's stay has outlasted their welcome. Oona Lawrence as the young mushroom-gathering Amy and Addison Riecke as the deceptively angelical Marie are also excellent under Coppola's direction. That's her focus, eschewing video splits on the shoot, so she can concentrate on the performances, leaving her cinematographer to do his work.
Coppola won the Best Director Award at Cannes 2017 for this film, only the second female (after Jane Campion for The Piano in 1993) to have done so. We can see why.
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BEGUILED, THE (2017) (M)
CAST: Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Elle Fanning, Kirsten Dunst, Angourie Rice, Oona Laurence
PRODUCER: Roma Coppola, Sofia Coppola, Your Henley
DIRECTOR: Sofia Coppola
SCRIPT: Sofia Coppola (novel by Thomas Cullinan)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Philippe Le Sourd
EDITOR: Sarah Flack
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Anne Ross
RUNNING TIME: 94 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Universal
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: July 13, 2017