The Beguiled: Sofia Coppola Delivers Moody, Calculated Stunner
Writer-director, Sofia Coppola is a filmmaker with an immense talent and a sharp visual eye. Her use of dreamy and stylish aesthetics – witnessed in previous films including Marie Antoinette and Lost in Translation – has often been criticised, however, due to a perceived lack of substance in her storytelling.
Even so, she certainly has a filmmaker’s eye and is once again able to demonstrate her undeniable talent and visual flair in The Beguiled; a slow-burning, moody and beautifully-crafted Southern Gothic tale which, thanks to its restrained and deliberate approach, has the power to linger around long after the story has been brought to a close.
Set in 1864 – about three years into the American Civil War – the story takes place at a seminary school in Virginia under the rule of the prim and proper, Martha Farnsworth (Kidman) and teacher, Ms. Edwina (Dunst). The film opens with one of the students, Amy (Laurence), as she stumbles across a wounded Yankee soldier, John McBurney (Farrell), in the neighbouring woods. Amy decides to bring the soldier back to the home she shares with another four girls, including Alicia (Fanning), Jane (Rice), Emily (Howard) and Marie (Riecke). At first, Martha, whose priority lies with the girls’ safety, is hesitant to allow a stranger – let alone a Yankee solider – into the school, but her Christian duty soon finds her giving in.
Setting him up in a separate room, Martha soon begins tending to his leg injury with John soon finding his own ways to cosy-up to the women. Whilst Martha battles with the idea of informing the Union soldiers about the presence of an enemy in her home, she soon starts to enjoy his company while each of the girls look for ways to impress him. Unfortunately, things take a drastic turn when an incident occurs late one night, upsetting the household’s relatively peaceful existence in the process.
Adapted from the Thomas P Cullinan’s 1966 novel of the same name – a story which was first visited on screen back in 1971 in Don Siegel’s Clint Eastwood-led drama that no one remembers – The Beguiled is told through a restrained and a misty lens that touch on subjects such as jealousy, forbidden sexuality and oppression. Unlike the original film – which this movie is not a remake of – the central focus lies on the women and although Coppola doesn’t shine too much light on their individual back-stories, they’re each given equal amount of time to shine with Kidman, as the protective and poised lioness out to protect her cubs, coming out on top.
As expected from any Sofia Coppola undertaking, the cinematography and the costumes are sublime with each and every shot taken conveying the mood and the temperament of its Southern setting.
Eerie, dreamy and wonderfully restrained, Coppola – who bathes the film in cannon smoke and overpowering sense of claustrophobia – takes her time in telling the story and while that may off-putting to some viewers, the end-result does not disappoint.