Monday, July 3, 2017


Writer and director Sofia Coppola’s THE BEGUILED is the second cinematic attempt at adapting the Civil War novel of the same name, with the first being the 1971 effort which starred Clint Eastwood. For this new version, Coppola clearly had the option of following the template set by the Eastwood film, or to dig deeper into the novel to find a fresh angle. The latter method is clearly the better option, which at the very least would avoid any “remake” comparisons and complaints, but the approach is one thing…and execution is another.

During the height of the Civil War, Corporal McBurney (Colin Farrell), is seriously wounded and left behind in Southern State territory, where he finds refuge in an all-girls school, which is led by Martha (Nicole Kidman), and her top student Edwina (Kirsten Dunst). Martha, Edwina, and their five remaining students of various age, are then captivated by the Union soldier…

THE BEGUILED is a slow-burning, extremely patient film which doesn’t have much by way of plot. The storyline doesn’t involve McBurney trying to escape back to Northern territory or any of the women and girls being held captive, and just spends its time exploring how the women of the school react to the situation. McBurney’s presence in the all-girls school, which doubles as their home, upsets the balance of the place as each woman and girl is fascinated by him; with the older ones beaming with lust and the younger girls set off into giggles.

Not content with just filming a story about oogling girls, writer and director Sofia Coppola digs a bit deeper into the mindsets of Civil War-era women. McBurney isn’t just a wounded soldier but a possible threat (he is the enemy, after all), and Martha and her girls grapple with the tough decision of letting him stay until his wounds are healed, or turning him over to the first Confederate patrol that passes by. Coppola also finds and develops a spiritual connection between McBurney and Edwina, with both characters coming from vastly different places but both looking for a way out of the war and into a better life. Taking the perspective of the women, the film thrives on characters poking and prodding each other for bits of information, and while THE BEGUILED holds very little by way of action, the tension in the room can be measured like southern heat in the summer.

The film’s setting of the isolated school works to Coppola’s advantage. The war is nearby but only heard of by way of distant cannons, and the feeling of being alone out in the backwoods of Virginia hangs heavy in the film’s atmosphere. Coppola is very patient in her editing, with scenes unfolding very slowly and characters getting to places in no rush at all. The estate is beautifully photographed, and the scenes at night with only candlelight showing the way allows for some stunning and spooky cinematography. A musical score is nearly absent, and adds to the un-nerving silence that hangs over the movie.

Acting is superb. Colin Farrell gets to use his Irish accent in full (appropriate, as many immigrants were put right into service back then), and his character goes through several stages which gives him a lot of meat to work with. Nicole Kidman is also excellent; hitting her southern twang just right. Kirsten Dunst gets the most to do and handles it well, and Elle Fanning makes a strong impression. The show is nearly stolen by young Oona Lawrence, who forms a bond with McBurney as the one who finds him in the woods, and she does very well for a child in an adult situation.

The third act, leading into the finale, goes into some horrific places as Coppola dips her toes into the horror genre and provides some spine-tingling moments as characters grapple with some moral and ethical decisions. There’s a bit of an abrupt stop towards the end, but it’s far from a dealbreaker as the journey to get there is well worth it. Coppola has put together a beautiful and tragic film here, one with a unique perspective that stands out amongst the vast library of Civil War stories.  


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