Sofia Coppola’s remake of the 1971 film The Beguiled, is a thrilling ride through the emotional spectrum of jealousy, with outstanding performances.
In the American South during the early years of the Civil War, Corporal John McBurney (Colin Farrell) of the Union Army is found wounded by young school girl Amy (Oona Laurence), whilst foraging for mushrooms in the woods. Seeing that John is helpless and in pain, she invites him back to her nearly-abandoned school, to receive shelter and medical care from its headmistress, Martha Farnsworth (Nicole Kidman). Things turn dark when Martha, Edwina (the school’s only teacher, played by Kirsten Dunst) and Alicia (the school’s oldest pupil, played by Elle Fanning) all begin to develop feelings for McBurney, as their jealous tendencies begin to unfold.
The film’s plot is simple, yet effective. The women in this film have not seen a man for quite some time, and are growing tired of the mundane existence they’ve come to know. McBurney’s arrival comes with a sense of excitement, bringing out the ladies’ nurturing side, as well as their competitive, ruthless, and vindictive sides. However, the wounded solider McBurney isn’t completely innocent in all this, as he too, shares mutual feelings for the women, playing the same game the whole way through. The characters here all differ in personality, each with their own unique, seductive style, brought to life in fantastic fashion by the film’s principal cast.
Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning and Colin Farrell all put in exceptional performances, using every option available to them to convey the message. From body language, to passing glances, soulful stares and very deliberate dialogue, the actors’ performances draw the viewer in to the time and place shown on screen, keeping them enthralled until the end. The film’s younger stars must also be commended in their supporting roles, easily matching the talents of their much more experienced co-stars, whilst their innocent nature provides an amusing contrast to the deeper, and potentially even sinister themes at play.
The themes are handled superbly by director Sofia Coppola, through her use of calculated pacing, making the tension rise in each scene as the film progresses. The period setting of the film only helps to magnify that tension, with the desolate setting adding to the emotional deluge experienced by these characters, that somewhat transcends across to the film’s audience. All these things make for an unnerving viewing experience, but in a good way, because that is the film’s goal. It’s not entirely bleak though, as there are several moments of humour that pull you out of the film a bit, for some short, but necessary respite.
The Beguiled is a film that relies purely on plot, performances, photography and the craft of filmmaking to get its story across. There are no bells and whistles here, making the film succeed in entertaining its audience, using only the fundamental techniques available to Coppola and her team. While it’s not exactly rare, it is still hard to find a mainstream movie that can pull this off these days, so the fact that this movie does, is a feat in itself. The Beguiled has the potential to reach its audience on a deeper level, leaving its story up for discussion, and debate, after seeing it.
For this film, Sofia Coppola won the prize of Best Director at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival. It marked the first time in 50 years a woman won the award, and only the second time overall.