It's not hard to understand why Sofia Coppola won the Best Director Award at this year's Cannes International Film Festival for "The Beguiled". This film is incredibly gorgeous --- the women, the lighting, the setting, the costumes are all fabulous. Then, you add the very handsome, sexy Colin Farrell to the mix --- and what you have is near perfection.
"The Beguiled" begins in 1864 Virginia. The Civil War has already been raging for three years. Sweet little Amy (Oona Laurence, who was the only good actor in "Southpaw", 2015) is out picking mushrooms when she stumbles upon Corporal John McBurney (Farrell), a severely wounded Union soldier she helps back to her private girls' school, Farnsworth Seminary. Alarmed at the presence of an enemy soldier, the girls and their headmistress, Miss Martha Farnsworth (Nicole Kidman) are unsure of what to do next.
At Amy's behest, because it is the right Christian thing to do, they all must agree to shelter McBurney until he recovers from his life-threatening injury. However, having such an attractive stranger in the house turns up the sexual tension for Miss Martha and the beautiful teacher, Edwina (Kirsten Dunst).
As Corporal McBurney tries to exploit that tension to ensure his good stead amongst these vulnerable women and girls, things get out of hand. His professed love for Edwina does nothing to protect him when he tries to seduce the younger Alicia (Elle Fanning), whose flirtatious activity has drawn in the wounded soldier.
Coppola has surrounded herself with immense talent. She wrote the screenplay based on the novel of the same name by Thomas Cullinan, but she was also fascinated by the story of the 1971 version of "The Beguiled" starring Clint Eastwood and Geraldine Page. I have not seen that film, but it is hard to imagine that that movie is as magnificently photographed as Ms. Coppola's.
Coppola has taken the image of Southern beauty to extremes. Filmed mostly at the Madewood Plantation House two hours outside of New Orleans, one can just feel the heat and humidity of the region in this film so handsomely shot by Director of Photography Philippe Le Sourd --- it's quite exquisite. And the costumes by Stacey Battat are divine --- exactly what we would expect of refined women of the deep South.
But again, it is the performances which Coppola extracts from her superb cast that makes "The Beguiled" a treasure. Kidman, who is always marvelous, is indeed splendid. Miss Martha tackles McBurney's injuries with a vengeance, but watching her bathe the unconscious corporal sends shivers down the spine. The sexual overtones are palpable and oh so scathing.
The entire cast is that good. Dunst and Farrell have a charged chemistry and Fanning is too naughty for words. My favorite, though, is Laurence. She is such a gem --- such an accomplished actor for her age. When she contributes to the plot to rid the women of their problem, it is deft but chilling.
"The Beguiled" is a delicious summer movie --- filmmaking at its best. Treat yourself to a little thriller, instead of a few of those mighty and boring blockbusters.
Opinion: See It Now!
I have a feeling most people could not provide an accurate definition of the word "beguiled", but when it appears in a movie title there is something sinister about it. Of its many synonyms, terms like "seduced", "betrayed", "enticed", "infatuated" and "deceived" all apply to director Sofia Coppola's new film "The Beguiled".
Set in 1864, three years into the Civil War, a desperately wounded Union soldier, Corporal John McBurney (Colin Farrell), is found in the woods in Confederate territory by a young girl named Amy (Oona Laurence). With her help, he makes it to the Farnsworth Seminary where the headmistress Miss Martha Farnsworth (Nicole Kidman) stitches his lacerated leg, and generally brings him back to life.
The handsome McBurney catches the attention of all seven females in the boarding school, most notably the other adult woman, Edwina Dabney (Kirsten Dunst). The rest of the small group living there consists of five girls, primarily young teens, and all very impressionable.
Eschewing digital technology, Coppola and her cinematographer, Philippe Le Sourd, shot the movie on film. The result is a moody, gothic period piece that begins ever so gradually, where niceties of the era are exchanged by everyone, including a most cordial formal dinner. But instinctively, we know this can't last.
Eventually "The Beguiled" shifts into a horror show/thriller with at least two major ironies that will resonate long after you leave the theater. Let's just say that as events unfold in the old mansion, the women find themselves under extreme duress. Yet the solution to their problem is rendered by the most innocent, and apparently harmless, of the group, young Marie (Addison Riecke).
The bulk of the film takes place in the Madewood Plantation House --- actually built during and after the Civil War --- situated outside of New Orleans; and in a private residence in New Orleans. The film's costuming and attention to detail help to create the real atmosphere of the time. A pistol called a Whitneyville Dragoon, a .44–caliber revolver manufactured prior to the war, is a character unto itself.
Coppola adapted the screenplay from the novel by Thomas Cullinan. She always had Kidman in mind for the lead female role, and Kidman does not disappoint. She masks her Australian accent for a soft Southern one, and commands the screen in every scene. Kidman does more in one facial expression here than some actors do in an entire film. Farrell, meanwhile, is strong and convincing as the Irish soldier of fortune, a Union deserter who gets way more than he bargained for at the plantation.
So many memorable shots abound in "The Beguiled", even something as simple as the adults and children huddled together on their sofa, protecting themselves from a potentially great evil. As with all films featuring young actors, so much depends on their performances, and they all thrive, particularly Coppola favorite Elle Fanning as the youthful coquette Alicia.
I was especially impressed by a Farrell quote about Kidman: "Nicole is a joy to work with. When she comes on the set everyone gets a little better, from the actors to the electricians". And I believe "The Beguiled" is Ms. Coppola's best work to date.
Opinion: See It Now!