The Beguiled – Film Review by Frank L.
Directed by Sofia Coppola
Writers: Thomas Cullinan (based on the novel by), Albert Maltz (based on the screenplay by)
Stars: Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning
Set in a girl’s school in Virginia during the American Civil War, Coppola has created a world of dark, gothic intrigue amongst the all-female community who reside in an iconic, white, porticoed mansion. It is some sort of an academy for refined young ladies and girls. The interior is genteel with, for example, the key of an interior door attached to a refined length of string terminating with a tassle.
But the outward appearance of calm and order is disturbed by the constant, not so distant, thud of the raging military battle between the opposing armies. Notwithstanding the battle being so near, the world inside the mansion remains one of calmness as the female occupants move around the well-appointed rooms in their flowing white dresses. Then, into this charmed world arrives Corporal McBurnaby (Colin Farrell) who is an unmannered, young Irishman, with a Dublin accent, who was fighting on the Union side but has deserted and been wounded. Miss Martha (Nicole Kidman), who is in charge, gives shelter to this enemy of her world. His masculinity stands in sharp contrast to the measured femininity of these young Southern ladies and girls. Inevitably he and they gradually intertwine. Kidman maintains a narrow line in this tricky situation between her emotions and her principles. However Alicia (Kirsten Dunst) is less restrained.
The cinematography of this discrete world-of-interiors house has fine shots of its various bourgeois artefacts which stand in stark contrast to the uncouthness of McBurnaby who is a bit of rough in all this gentility. Their behaviour towards him while polite is dark and devious. However the macabre aspects of the story lie uncomfortably with the well upholstered interior. It does not simply ring true. Kidman is the central force in the Academy and she dominates the scenes in which she appears. Farrell has a field day being surrounded by so much femininity with no male competitor in sight.
Remarkably for a film set in the South during the Civil War there is no African American character. Apparently the novel by Thomas P.Cullinan did have but Coppola’s film script omits. There are no servants in this mansion! This adds to the sense that the mansion is not part of this world. It is more a set on which its delicate occupants and the all-male McBurnaby will play out a drama created for them. There is not a point where this play touches reality. It remains throughout an artifice. That elegant tassled key is a symbol of that artificiality. While beautifully shot and well constructed, the film failed to convince.