The Beguiled

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Reviewed by: Richard Mowe

Sofia Coppola's The Beguiled
"Coppola’s desire for a new “soft” approach seems to have emasculated the original material while failing to engross our senses with her storytelling techniques."

Sofia Coppola has brought a “feminist” slant to The Beguiled, based on the book by Thomas P Cullinan which was made in to a film by Don Siegel in 1971 with the role of the wounded soldier now taken by Colin Farrell assumed by Clint Eastwood.

The earlier film was a full-blown Gothic melodrama whereas Coppola does not seek to do a remake but rather returns to the source material for the inspiration.

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It is a deliberately low-key and almost painstakingly measured, lacking any powerful narrative drive with her actors including Farrell, Nicole Kidman as the steely-eyed head of Miss Farnsworth’s Seminary for Young Ladies. Kirsten Dunst, full of repressed desires as a lumpen teacher, and Elle Fanning as a rebellious teenager also offer performances that are downbeat and restrained.

Farrell gives the most effective performance as Corporal John McBurney, the masculine foil in the midst of this hormonal coven of feminiity - a Union soldier given sanctuary in the genteel household in the closing chapters of the Civil War.

His presence unleashes emotions previously dormant. When he seduces Dunst’s acquiescent teacher and causes jealousy and angst in some of the other others, he finds himself pushed down the stairs, thereby opening the wound in his leg previously languorously tended by Nicole Kidman.

The scene is set for the centre-piece excruciating amputation of the offending limb, a symbolic castration if ever there was one.

Siegel made a much more lurid version than Coppola who is more content to explore gender, desire and group dynamics with all the rest simmering under the surface.

These are women cut off and isolated from the world around them - and McBurney is a reminder of the horrors and threats that are out there beyond the leafy and misty grounds of the mansion.

The soldier tries to relate and play the games of mutual attraction but the women are never entirely convinced by his stance. Farrell manages to walk the tightrope between the different aspects of his character with skilful agility. Kidman seems to relish the power struggle as her privileged world appears to be on the brink of extinction.

Coppola’s desire for a new “soft” approach seems to have emasculated the original material while failing to engross our senses with her storytelling techniques. Others may find there are hidden depths.

The Beguiled is released on 23 June in the US and on 14 July in the UK.

Reviewed on: 24 May 2017
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The Beguiled packshot
Civil War drama about an injured Yankee soldier who seeks refuge in girls' boarding school.

Director: Sofia Coppola

Writer: Sofia Coppola, Thomas Cullinan

Starring: Nicole Kidman, Elle Fanning, Kirsten Dunst, Colin Farrell, Angourie Rice, Oona Laurence, Addison Riecke, Wayne Pére, Emma Howard, Matt Story, Rod J. Pierce

Year: 2017

Runtime: 94 minutes

Country: US


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