The Beguiled - This Movie Southern Rocks
Dir: Sofia Coppola
Starring Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning, Oona Laurence, Angourie Rice
Sofia Coppola has reworked a thoroughly entertaining early ‘70s Clint Eastwood exploitation-horror movie (itself adapted from a book by Thomas Cullinan) into a dreamy, hazy, light-dappled female driven neo-Southern gothic, quasi-fairy tale. And that’s not at all a bad thing.
Farrell is in for Eastwood, the wounded Yankee soldier, forced to hold up in a Southern school for girls, in this case the Kidman-led Farnsworth Seminary. To say he spreads erotic confusion amongst women of all ages present is an understatement. To state who is the beguiled of the title is to fall prey to Coppola’s beautifully shifting tale of the balance of power in this particular set up.
Farrell establishes himself right from the off as a potentially untrustworthy bedfellow, whilst Kidman, Fanning and (especially) Dunst manage to project at least three different types of repression, not all of them sexual, as the few remaining young girls at the school also fall under the spell of that most rare of sights in wartime – a man. As Farrell slowly seduces his way into their lives (again, not always sexual) the temperature of the South begins to rise to inevitably dark results. After all, Coppola’s is a movie that very literally pays service to the old Chekhovian adage that if you show a gun in the first act (and she does) then it will undoubtedly go off by the third (fair to say, things do go bang.)
As ever, Coppola’s movie is a thing of beauty to watch, it’s Seminary-bound characters almost trapped within a magical forest of drowsy late afternoon light seeping through gorgeously possessive willowing trees, as if no one present is ever destined to leave this environ. There’s a creeping and pervading sense of gentility about to be lost forever, something exacerbated by the constant sounds of the Civil War in the background, moving closer and closer to this isolated world.
It’s also an impressively concise piece, managing to feel both languorous in tone but brisk in pace – it clocks in at just over a rare these days 90s minutes. It unravels a little toward the end – where Eastwood’s original turned into something of a horror movie, this opts more for melodrama of the “Bring me the saw!” variety.
But Coppola’s impressive cast and her melancholic tone of falling from some long established sense of grace, ensure that over all The Beguiled does what it say in the title.
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