Written for the Screen and Directed by: Sofia Coppola
Based on the Novel by: Thomas Cullinan
and the Screenplay by: Albert Maltz and Grimes Grice
Produced by: Youree Henley, Sofia Coppola
Music by: Phoenix based on Moteverdi’s ‘Magnificat’
Director of Photography: Philippe Le Sourd, AFC
Starring: Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning, Oona Laurence, Angourie Rice, Addison Riecke and Emma Howard.
The Beguiled is set in 1864, three years into the American Civil War. Miss Martha (Nicole Kidman), Edwina (Kirsten Dunst), Alicia (Elle Fanning) and four younger girls remain cloistered like nuns behind imposing wrought iron fencing that encloses the Southern girls’ boarding house, where Miss Martha and Edwina used to teach.
Three years is a long time for women to be hidden away, following a daily routine of sewing, lessons and the half-hearted attempt to control the Southern jungle threatening to overgrow the old plantation house and all those in it, like the wild vines, mosquitoes and mist represent the wild nature of the women, barely held in check by their day-to-day routine.
When Corporal McBurney (Colin Farrell), a Union soldier, is found injured amongst the old cyprus and oak trees, he’s brought back to the well-ordered school-house where he’s nursed back to health. The presence of a man in the house after so many years changes the atmosphere, creating tension.
Canons explode in the distance and the heat continues but the insects don’t seem to be noticed as much when there’s a man in the house. A charming man who’s able to relate to all the women, each of them special from the strong Miss Martha to the quiet yet beautiful Edwina, the bored and precocious Alicia, to the innocence of the younger girls. Corporal McBurney charms them all. The Irishman believing himself to be truly lucky to have such attention, not knowing the danger of a lonely woman’s heart.
And like good milk left out in the heat turns sour, the women’s hold on normal life slowly twists into something dark and cold.
Director Sofia Coppola knows how to show the danger of love turned bad. She’s adapted the original film, staring Clint Eastwood as a man trapped by the women he conned into loving him, and turned the story to the point-of-view of the women.
The cast is so important in this story as the film is all about the behaviour and interaction between the women when a man enters their isolated world. And Coppola has returned with an imposing cast with Kirsten Dunst and Elle Fanning who worked with Sofia previously. You can see the actors are comfortable here and insight into the character is given by each solid performance. Nicole Kidman was made for her character, Miss Martha.
Did I like the film?
The Beguiled is a quiet film, kept simple with minimal dressing. Needing a quiet audience, it took me a while to get absorbed into the story.
The southern climate and setting of the beautiful old plantation house were the highlight for me. All recorded on film (with the older aspect ratio of 1:66/I) to show rays of sunshine through mist and the romance of candle light glowing in this isolated house like a glass eye. The setting enveloping the audience only to turn a blind eye to the happenings behind closed doors.
The backdrop needed to be simple to show the complicated nuances between the characters because the film is all about the subtle and not-so-subtle behaviour of women around a man – the instinct hard to deny and always simmering under the politeness of society.
But where is society during war? What society is there for bored, isolated, Christian, red-blooded women?
Sofia Coppola says she made the film with, Misery (1990), based on the novel written by Stephen King, in mind and there is that element of the horror of being trapped because of love and obsession.
But, The Beguiled is more subtle, showing how a woman can turn when in competition for a man’s attention, that shift demonstrated well here with skilled performances from a cast well-handled by a careful director.
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