The Beguiled

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‘Apple pie is my favourite too!’

Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered… and of course Beguiled. Sofia Coppola’s period hostage drama, THE BEGUILED, entices audiences with flirtatious eye contact and passive aggressive snide comments.

Deviating slightly from the 1971 film of the same name, and from the novel The Painted Devil by Thomas P. Cullinan, THE BEGUILED serves as a reiteration to audiences that period pieces can be equally as thrilling as fast-paced present day action. During the American Civil War in the 19th century, young Amy discovers an injured Union soldier whilst foraging for mushrooms. Corporal John McBurney (Colin Farrell, THE LOBSTER (2015)), thankful to be discovered, convinces Amy to bring him back her place of refuge: Miss Martha Farnsworth’s Seminary for Young Ladies, where his wounds can be treated. Miss Martha (Nicole Kidman, RABBIT HOLE (2010)) agrees to nurse him back to health on the condition that Corporal McBurney must leave as soon as he is fit to do so, despite being from the enemy side. In an isolated house full of women and young girls, sexual tensions and frustrations are bound to arise as the presence of the Corporal whisks up the dynamic within the household: each young lady tries to compete for McBurney’s attention in a what could possibly be the first historic season of ABC’s The Bachelor. However, all good things must end as the fairytale fantasy of a benevolent male fades, and decisions must be made. In one of the most indulgent scenes in recent cinema history, involving a dinner table and a single smile, we learn that these ‘vengeful bitches’ are not to be intimidated by any man.

Casting Nicole Kidman alongside Elle Fanning (THE NEON DEMON (2016)) once again demonstrates just how well these two actors bounce off each other’s skill and attitude. Seen performing together days earlier at the Cannes Film Festival in John Cameron Mitchell’s HOW TO TALK TO GIRLS AT PARTIES (2017), the dynamic between the two seems progressive and non-synthetic. Kidman admittedly steals the entire film as the omniscient Miss Martha Farnsworth, who has one clear goal: to protect her girls at all costs. Fanning’s Alicia is a young adult who appears to desire attention from anyone or anything. Her rebellious nature is apparent from the outset, in the scene in which Miss Edwina Morrow (Kirsten Dunst, MIDNIGHT SPECIAL (2016)) gives the daily French lesson to the girls: it is no surprise that once the forbidden fruit is introduced into the house, she most certainly wants to take a bite. The two characters, Miss Martha and Alicia, despite being opposites in their approach and mannerisms appear to be focussed on achieving the same goal; however, only one girl can get the rose.

An example of a ‘remake’ done well with respect and grace.

The narrative of the film is divided into two easily identifiable parts. The first half is focussed on setting up the atmosphere of the Seminary, now that a man has been allowed to enter. Whereas after the consequences of the fascination between the women and McBurney become apparent the second half of the film takes a more sinister twist, leading the film to become much darker and set a course down a thrilling path. The musical score translates this change in narrative with a precise accuracy, developing from American nursery rhymes and dandyish tunes to chilling synth chords and ghostly melodies. The final scene of the film adopts a ghoulish style of misted scenery and a phantomic overture, which creeps throughout the audience whilst the camera pans away and fades to black – an aesthetic comparable to David Lowery’s upcoming A GHOST STORY (2017).

THE BEGUILED runs for 94 minutes and captivates for the entirety. The drastic shift in narrative halfway through the feature adds a element of refreshment, and ensures the plot never tires or appears stale. The success of the film’s progression could easily accommodate a further 30 minutes or so to the running time, in order to explain more details and to extend the tension of the thrilling climax. Nevertheless, it’s pleasant to find a film which leaves the audience wanting to stay for more without the need for a sequel or alternative cut to the film. It performs particularly well at the Cannes Film Festival, where it’s surrounded by many overlong and less engaging features. Here, Coppola has crafted a neo-iteration of a literary classic which doesn’t rely on modern stylings to attract attention. Filmed on print and laced with misted scenes, it’s an example of a ‘remake’ done well with respect and grace.

THE BEGUILED is both a surprise and delight to watch. With intelligent humour and an unexpected sass it appeals and relates to a wide audience, but knows when to be serious. In a time when masculinity seemed to reek in the air, Coppola shows that the Young Ladies of the Miss Martha Farnsworth Seminary are not to be messed with!


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