Film Review: THE BEGUILED (USA 2017) ***1/2

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the beguiled.jpgAt a girls’ school in Virginia during the Civil War, where the young women have been sheltered from the outside world, a wounded Union soldier is taken in. Soon, the house is taken over with sexual tension, rivalries, and an unexpected turn of events.

Director: Sofia Coppola
Writers: Sofia Coppola (written for the screen by), Thomas Cullinan (novel)
Stars: Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning

Review by Gilbert Seah

THE BEGUILED is the new 2017 American period drama remake of the well-known 1971 Clint Eastwood Don Siegel collaboration. Written and directed now by a woman Sofia Coppola (daughter of Francis Ford Coppola) famous for her strong female films like THE VIRGIN SUICIDES and LOST IN TRANSLATION, the film arrives with lots of accolades since winning her the Best Director Prize at Cannes this year, making her the second woman director ever to win the prestigious award.

Cineastes and film critics would definitely be very eager to watch this film. Three main reasons for can be sited. The first is that THE BEGUILED is a new film by Sofia Coppola who is a definite presence in current film. Her new work is always something to look forward to. As the Don Siegel directed original was very all received critically, it would be very interesting to compare the differences between the two films, differences attributed to one film made with a strong feminine value and the original directed by a top action director with his top actions star (Eastwood). The new version also updates the political correctness. Thirdly, the new film boasts an impressive cast that includes Elle Fanning, Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst and Colin Farrell, the latter complete with full Irish accent in the Eastwood role.

THE BEGUILED is based on the novel The Beguiled (originally published as A Painted Devil) by Thomas P. Cullinan. Coppola’s film holds the same story though it removes the character of Haille, present in the 1971 version. Haille is a black slave that was taken to the soldier’s fascination. Set during the middle of the American Civil War 1860’s, injured Union soldier John McBurney (Colin Farrell) is rescued from the verge of death by 12 year-old Amy (Oona Lawrence), a student at an all-girl boarding school in the south, the Miss Martha Farnsworth Seminary for Young Ladies. Martha (Nicole Kidman) reluctantly agrees to take him in until he has built up his health, under the condition that he is locked in the music room and kept under watch. Both Edwina (Dunst), the schoolteacher, takes an immediate liking to John, as does Carol (Fanning), a teenage student. Female jealousies are aroused leading to a terrible climax.

Siegel was an action director and his film is more violent than Coppola’s. When McBurney’s leg is amputated, he is given wine in Siegel’s film while given chloroform in Coppola’s. The former is almost brutally unwatachable. Also in Siegel’s film, McBurney is hit by a candlestick before falling down the stairs while McBurney is pushed down the stairs in the latter.

In Coppola’s film, the soldier is not the main character trying to survive but now become the object of the females fantasies while the females become the main characters in the story. The outcome of the soldier remains the same.
THE BEGUILED is rich in period atmosphere with an authentic feel of the confusion of the civil war. Coppola’s updated version is absorbing, terrifying and well-directed piece of work deserving her of the Best Director’s prize at Cannes.


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