THE BEGUILED: Austin to Poe in ninety-four minutes
Confederate flag-waving will do little to right some wrongs, especially when it comes to matters of the heart. Within The Beguiled‘s ninety-four minutes, lust turns to tragedy in southern Virginia.
The Beguiled is a remake of the 1971 film starring Clint Eastwood, and both versions were adapted from the Thomas Cullinan novel. The film stars Nicole Kidman, Kristen Dunst, and Elle Fanning as the three eldest women at a girls’ school in Virginia during the Civil War. Kidman plays Martha Farnsworth, who is head of household and naturally runs the house with stern assuredness. Dunst plays Edwina Dabney, a seasoned instructor who yearns for a life far from home. Fanning plays Alicia, a curious teen and role model for the remaining young girls. The women routinely run a school out of the house for the girls, when one fateful day they hesitantly take in Col. John McBurney (Colin Farrell), an injured Union soldier, and thus begins our tale.
Although their southern accents can be shaky at times, and the youngest actresses appear to struggle with their lines, the first half of the film plays out convincingly like a Jane Austin novel – the three eldest women (Kidman, Dunst, and Fanning) compete for McBurney’s affections, and he reciprocates with his own playful game of manipulation by appealing to their needs and desires. Complications result from jealousy, emotions flare, tensions rise, and ‘misfortune’ results. At the midway point, the mood of the film becomes darker. What began as a game of innocence and curiosity, later transitions into a fight for survival. The tale evolves from a Jane Austin novel to an Edgar Allen Poe story – distress, distrust, and fear of the unknown eventually lead to deception and tragedy.
This film is director Sofia Coppola’s (The Virgin Suicides, Lost in Translation, and Marie Antoinette) second period piece. Even though Coppola’s Marie Antoinette seemed to successfully embrace Marie’s lavish lifestyle of fun and excess, The Beguiled seems to improve on maintaining authenticity within the time period. Dunst is not a stranger to Coppola’s directing style as this is their second film collaboration, the first being The Virgin Suicides.
There is little music score to this film. The occasional sounds of explosions can be heard in the background, and the tune “Bringing in the sheaves” is sung by the women at periodic points of the film – seemingly foreshadowing the inevitable future. This is one of Coppola’s better films, if for nothing else than the far darker second half. Give it a go.