Coming to theatres this Friday from director Sophia Coppola and Focus Features is a story of love, jealousy and one man in the middle of THE BEGUILED.
It is Virginia at the time of Civil War as head mistress Miss Martha (Nicole Kidman) keeps the students of her girls school hidden away from war. Teacher Miss Edwina (Kirsten Dunst) gives lessons to the young ladies Alicia (Elle Fanning), Amy (Oona Laurence), Jane (Angourie Rice), Marie (Addison Riecke) and Emily (Emma Howard).
Foraging in the woods, Amy finds Confederate Corporal McBurney (Colin Farrell) wounded up against a tree. Instead of alerting the Union soldiers, she takes him back to the school. Alarmed at what Amy has done, Miss Martha still takes the soldier inside being reminded it is the Christian thing to do. Tending to McBurney’s wounds, a decision is made that he will stay until well enough to be turned over to the Union Captain.
Immediately McBurney’s presence begins to have an impact on the women and girls of the school. McBurney takes a keen interest in Miss Edwina and she shares her desire to be gone of the school. Miss Martha is also affected by his presence but she maintains an air of Southern hospitality and charm. It is Alicia (Elle Fanning) who makes it clear to McBurney that she is smitten with him.
As he begins to heal, McBurney helps around the grounds with gardening and fixing things. The tensions begin to rise when McBurney and Miss Edwina get closer but one slip brings disaster to the entire house. One fateful error brings a group decision that will change everything each of them thought about themselves and each other.
Kidman as Miss Martha is cool, calm and steadfast – even when her own womanly desires kick in. I love when Kidman puts on a corset and tight chignon and makes it clear that no one is going to mess with her, especially a Confederate soldier with an Irish brogue.
Farrell as McBurney is charming, dark and doing what ever it takes to survive. Lets be honest, he smolders on screen whether he wants to or not which adds to the intensity in many scenes. Dunst as Edwina is a woman clearly unhappy with life and feeling trapped inside the school. Her performance gives the faraway wants of this character on point.
Fanning as Alicia is the teenage temptress who pretends to follow along with the rules but in fact is trying to find ways to break every one of them. Laurence as Amy wants to believe the best about McBurney and convinces everyone else to do the right thing. Rice as Jane is a mini-Miss Martha with Riecke as Marie and Howard as Emily round out the young girls trying to feel safe in the middle of a war.
In 1971 director Don Siegel brought THE BEGUILED to the screen with Clint Eastwood and Geraldine Page and I loved every frame of that storytelling. That’s what makes the 2017 version so difficult for me. Cinematically it is beautiful although I’m not sure how many shots of moss dangling from trees and the sounds of birds I could take over and over again.
The cast is amazing and I wouldn’t have changed a thing about that portion of the film. However, that being said, there is something greatly missing and I can’t even tell you what that is. I want to say it seemed the film just went through the motions but that would be insulting Farrell, Kidman, Dunst and the cast that clearly put their all into the film. It is probably my disappointment in the film being remade when the original stands on its own.
I am not a fan of remakes, retellings, rethinkings, or reimaginings as anyone who knows me will tell you. I have said it over and over that the creativity seems to have gone out of Hollywood. Instead of presenting movie goers with new and amazing stories, it seems the decision makers believe that no one will complain if they just recycle (oh look, another “re”!) that they can get by.
This version of THE BEGUILED is a Saturday afternoon relaxing in front of the television type film that will lull the senses and for that I’m saddened. The costuming is stunning which adds a dimension of richness to southern sensibilities.
In the end – innocent until betrayed!