The Beguiled is a film based on a film based on a novel. The previous film is from 1971 and starred Clint Eastwood. I haven’t seen the original but it is definitely in my plans for summer watching after seeing writer/director Sofia Coppola’s take on Thomas P. Cullinan’s written work. Before getting into the film, I’d like to mention that I’m glad it was made. Not only am I happy to re-enter the world of 70’s classics but this is another film that solidifies the reemergence of three of its stars careers, not to mention the director’s, as well. The Beguiled earned Coppola some praise from Cannes this year which means more films from her for me to watch; pretty well always a good thing. I had all but given up on Kirsten Dunst. She has worked throughout the years, but she needed a film to introduce her as a grown up and this seems to be that film. Nicole Kidman is always good but I want more of her. She has this innate ability to weave in and out of characters and makes them completely believable; she’s flawless. I applaud her work and with Lion and this, I believe she should be considered the new Streep. Work more, woman! Colin Farrell hasn’t been in much either but he seems to be choosing parts very selectively, of late. His roles seem to be more developed. With The Lobster, the best work he’s done in my opinion, and this, I think we’ll see him continue to play in the arena with the big boys.
Now that I’ve let you know you won’t be disappointed in the cast, let me tell you a bit more about the film itself. The Beguiled is set during the Civil War. It’s the story of a Union soldier in the south, John McBurney (Farrell), who after being wounded badly in the leg, is found by a kind little girl who gets him help. She takes him to her all-female boarding school. The school is being run by two women, headmistress Martha Farnsworth (Kidman) and a teacher by the name of Edwina Dabney (Dunst). They’re not too excited about a wicked man from the north being in their school but they are women of God and decide the Christian thing to do is to help him. Luckily Martha is good with a sewing needle.
The ages of the girls in the school range from around 10 to late teens, Alicia, (Fanning) being the oldest. The girls aren’t around men and are all aflutter when one so good looking is in their midst. Some aren’t happy that he’s a yank and want to hand him over to the soldiers on their side but still are smitten. This is incredibly delightful to watch play out. I was ecstatic that the film was directed by a woman because Coppola really plays to her female audience with the way the girls fawn over him. As he’s on the mend, each parades into his room to entertain him in every way they can think of. They pay more attention to their wardrobes, too, as they fall in love with their charge. It’s obvious to John, Martha and Edwina that the girls are batting their eyes quite a bit. While watching some of these scenes, you’re propelled back to a time when you felt the flush of love in your young cheeks. It’s adorable. Martha and Edwina have also noticed his lovely face, very friendly character and that he’s in terrific shape; makeup and jewelry become the order of the day.
John is aware that the women are in need of company and begins to take advantage of that fact. They entertain him in many ways as he plays to their affections. Sexual tension builds which brings out the comedic aspect of the film but also many dark elements as it, in many ways, gets to the heart of humankind. This being the case, you have a very well paced, well written, incredibly well-acted film that Coppola may consider her best to date. Each girl is very accomplished for her age, plays to her strength and is genuine in her role, particularly Rice whom I believe is the best find since her co-star Fanning.
This is a see this weekend. Take a wee small break from the summer actions or you’ll never forgive yourself. This movie deserves your attention. Okay, could the movie have ended better? Yes. It was so good but the ending does have some degree of disappointment, however, it’s quality work from awe-inspiring talent and you will not walk away unsatisfied.
*Limited release in NY and LA today; nationaly release on June 30th!