Film review: THE BEGUILED, by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

Sofia Coppola’s films are rarely plot driven, instead they focus on relationships, manners, gestures and as in The Bling Ring and The Virgin Suicides, female sub-cultures. Coppola’s remake of the 1970 Clint Eastwood film The Beguiled exemplifies these themes.

Set in the deep south during the American Civil War as the confederate campaign began to collapse, the film sees wounded Union soldier Corporal John McBurney (Colin Farrell) taken in by the members of a very traditional lady’s college run by the prim but feisty Miss Martha (Nicole Kidman). There his presence disturbs the corseted world of needlework and French lessons as his and the young women’s repressed desires begin to surface.

With its gentle pacing and minimalist plot, this film will have less patient cinema-goers fidgeting and looking at their watch. Those willing to immerse themselves in its intricate patchwork of emotions, however, will find it a seductive experience.

This film is more about atmosphere than action and Philippe Le Sourd’s wonderfully evocative, almost swooning cinematography replicates the look of an oil painting from the period. With its natural lighting the film also at times recalls the visual style of Kubrick films such as Barry Lyndon. Some of Sofia Coppola’s team from the Virgin Suicides also worked on this film and it often recalls the tone and rhythms of that remarkable debut.

Sofia Coppola also invests enormously in her cast often building the film around their characters rather than using them as plot cyphers. Accordingly, the leads here are excellent. Nicole Kidman is both intimidatingly stern and campily funny as Miss Martha. Coppola’s muse Kirsten Dunst, who plays Edwina, the college’s multi-tasking teacher and the focus of McBurney’s attention, expertly conveys the painful clash of sexual desire and commitment to the school’s and the south’s definition of lady-like behaviour. In the right role Colin Farrell can be terrific and here he invests McBurney with an impressive mix of gentlemanly charm and a near-demonic capacity for manipulation. As the sexually precocious and slightly creepy student Alicia, Elle Fanning again shows she’s one of the better young actors in Hollywood.

Like Picnic At Hanging Rock this film captures the feeling of raw passions seething under 19th century propriety and through this film Sofia Coppola again proves herself a distinctive presence on the cinema landscape.

Nick’s rating: ***1/2

Genre: Historical drama.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Sophia Coppola.

Release date: 13th July 2017.

Running time: 93 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.


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