Sofia Coppola’s ‘The Beguiled’ Is A Stark, Sometimes Flawed Civil War Vignette (FILM REVIEW)


In the opening moments of The Beguiled, writer/director Sofia Coppola’s craftsmanship is on clear display. A young girl, Marie (Addison Riecke), walks through the woods, while the cannon fire of a Civil War battle echoes off in the distance. While picking mushrooms, she stumbles upon a Union soldier, John McBurney (Colin Farrell), propped against a tree, bleeding from his leg. Taking pity on him, Marie offers to take him back to the Farnsworth Seminary, a boarding school for young girls.

While the prospect of being a yankee in an all-girls seminary behind enemy lines isn’t exactly appealing to McBurney, he agrees that it’s better than leaving himself propped up against a tree. Marie knows he’s the enemy, but in the stark emptiness of the forest, with gunfire in the distance, her innocence lets her takes pity on him.

Once he’s brought to the steps of the school, the headmaster, Miss Martha (Nicole Kidman) immediately protests him being there. After some convincing to let him stay and heal, she agrees, at which point she promises to turn him over to a Confederate brigade as a prisoner of war.

After carrying him into the school’s music room, Miss Martha sews up his leg wound with the help of her assistant, Edwina (Kirsten Dunst), when it’s made clear to him that he’s not their guest, but an unwelcome visitor who’s been granted a very temporary stay until he’s back on his feet. Farrell spends most of the runtime there, giving the occasionally underrated (sometimes overrated) actor a chance to flex his dramatic chops from a confined space.

However, the longer McBurney stays at the school, the more Miss Martha, Edwina, and the girls start to take a shine to him. It’s here that Coppola’s vision really starts to take shape. In Don Siegel’s 1971 film, this was told from McBurney’s perspective (played then by Clint Eastwood). Here, Coppola skillfully changes the perspective to the girls’, meditating on their repressed sexuality, a by-product brought about from society, religion, and the grim reality of life during the Civil War.

Despite the rushed third act, which clumsily leaps over a couple key moments, Coppola’s remake artfully captures the tension contained within the walls of the school. Despite it’s pacing issues near the end, Coppola’s arty, hothouse remake, vignetting a specific time and place during America at it’s most distraught, showcases a filmmaker who continues to carve out her own distinct voice in modern cinema.

The Beguiled is now playing in select cities, with expansions on June 30.

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