By Ryan Keating-Lambert
The Beguiled is a splendid adaptation of the 1970s Clint Eastwood feature. Director Sofia Coppola has made a civil war film, but still kept her trademark haze of indie quirk and style.
Wounded Union soldier Corporal John McBurney (Colin Farrell) takes shelter in an isolated girls school in Virginia during the American Civil War, but is put in dire straits when its residents begin to turn on him in a fit of revenge and jealousy.
The most remarkable thing about this adaptation is being able to see these incredibly talented women unleash their full potential, not that Colin Farrell doesn’t give a memorable performance as the charming but unpredictable McBurney. Nicole Kidman shines as the imperious head mistress Miss Martha and plays a similar role to her god-fearing mother character in Amenabar’s The Others some years ago. Both Kidman and Elle Fanning, who plays the young flirt Alicia, seem to be having a very good year. Kirsten Dunst takes on an unusual role with teacher Edwina, who’s easily manipulated and generally withdrawn – very different to her titular role in Coppola’s Marie Antoinette and the boisterous Lux in The Virgin Suicides.
There are a lot of things about this film that hark back to The Virgin Suicides. They both explore the complications of womanhood, and both have that irresistibly dreamy pink hue that is quintessentially Coppola. The American Civil War is almost portrayed as a safer and more straight forward environment, compared to the dark, dank and gothic interior of the magnificent school. There’s always a twilight kind of doom and gloom to the set.
The original Beguiled was more of a man’s film, where Clint Eastwood’s McBurney was very much the villain. Coppola’s version is more ambiguous. Although there are moments when characters appear to act out of malice and contempt, it’s being boxed in by the civil war, with its ominous soundtrack of booms and gunshots, that make these characters so unpredictable, and the mood so intense.
Both fans of Coppola and newcomers should like this film, which was also an Official Selection at Cannes this year. It’s a slow burn and requires a little patience but is well worth it. This is the cream of the crop of talented Hollywood actresses.
The Beguiled is currently playing in Prague’s Kino Svetozor.