I have to admit I was nervous to see The Beguiled. I watched the trailer and it seemed like a mix between a horror movie and a thriller neither of which are my favorite genre. But as we learned in a previous episode of MIH podcast, trailers just hint at what you can expect rather than the heart of a film.
After watching The Beguiled I can honestly say this is one of the best movies I’ve seen so far this year. Big statement, I know. But let me explain.
The Beguiled is a remake of 1971’s Civil War-era film of the same name starring Clint Eastwood and Geraldine Page. Set in the last days of the Civil War, The Beguiled takes place at the Martha Farnsworth Seminary, an all-girls school where only five students remain—including Elle Fanning, as well as instructors Kirsten Dunst and Nicole Kidman.
It begins almost like a Tennessee Williams play, with Kidman’s Miss Martha clinging to her glory days as a Southern belle while tending to the wounds of Colin Farrell’s John McBurney, a Union soldier who’s deserted the battlefields of Virginia. The sudden presence of a man whips the young and older girls into a sexual frenzy, a sudden need to capture the soldier’s heart and attention.
Nicole Kidman is without a doubt one of the most incredible actresses working today. After recently watching her in Big Little Lies, it was incredible to see her transformed into an entirely different character in The Beguiled. She is able to find the depth and subtlety in every character she plays and this is no exception. In this film you don’t know whether to root for her as the matriarch of the household who’s just trying to protect her students, or cringe because there is pure evil behind her eyes.
The film is directed by Sofia Coppola who says she chose this project because she wanted to do something beautiful, and I believe she did. Fresh off her win for Best Director at Cannes, she tells me this film has a dreamy-like quality that makes you feel uneasy, but comfortable in this world. She also says she never thought she’d remake someone else’s film, but the story and idea was begging to be retold.
Coppola said, “The premise is so loaded, and to me, the story has so much about the power between men and women shifting back and forth and so heightened in this southern atmosphere. And I’ve always loved the south. It’s so exotic to me.”
The Beguiled also stars Kirsten Dunst, who worked with Coppola on The Virgin Suicides. This is a very understated role for Dunst and I think audiences will be surprised at her ability to reign in that bubbly spirit she’s known for.
“It’s fun to play a role like this so I was very tightly wound. There’s a lot going on with Edwina, but it’s all, underneath. But then I think of that scene with Colin. Sofia and I were like let’s make a shocking sex scene.” Dunst said.
And let me tell you, it was. Colin Farrell plays the wayward soldier and you don’t know whether to root for him or be scared of him at some points in the film. There are a lot of mixed emotions happening here! I have always loved Colin Farrell as an actor and like a lot of moments in this film, he plays it beautifully understated, until a misunderstanding pushes him too far.
Coppola says she relied a lot on her actors to create a different take for this film than the original. Elle Fanning was central to driving the drama and the hierarchy of the house. A native Georgian, she says this southern world was familiar to her. But I have not seen Fanning play a character like this before. She tells me the last 3 movies she made have all been with female filmmakers, something she didn’t plan.
“I didn’t necessarily choose it specifically because of that, it just turned out that way that they were making those stories and it was really exciting.” Fanning said.
The Beguiled left me with the same eerie feeling that it carried throughout the film. From an actors perspective it’s a great study in character development to see how they separated themselves from the original and played against type. And as an overall film, The Beguiled will certainly make you rethink any plans to play with a woman’s heart. It proves that throughout time and history, hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.
The Beguiled opens June 23rd and was written and directed by Sofia Coppola. It stars Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning and Colin Farrell.