Directed by Sofia Coppola
“The Beguiled”, the beautifully-photographed new drama by Cannes' best director Sofia Coppola (“Lost In Translation”, “The Virgin Suicides”), provides an acceptable cinematic preparation that concentrates sexual tension and frustration as a compact cocktail ready to explode. However, it fails that final and decisive move to impress.
Ms. Coppola wrote the script based on Thomas Cullinan’s novel of the same name and pointed the way to a stellar cast that includes Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, and Elle Fanning.
The film’s course of events takes place in Virginia during the Civil War, and starts with a wounded ‘Yankee’ soldier, Corporate John McBurney (Farrell), being rescued by a young girl, Amy (Oona Laurence), when she was picking up mushrooms in the woods. He’s obviously an exposed deserter in enemy territory.
Unhesitant, the girl accepts to help him, taking him to the school run by the fearless Martha Farnsworth (Kidman). She supervises the only tutor that didn’t leave, Edwina Morrow (Dunst), and five young female students of different ages.
Ms. Farnsworth immediately relies on her nursing skills, managing to save the life of a soldier who afterward shows to be kind, considerate, and thankful for the caring treatment he was subjected to. However, his presence arouses a natural curiosity among the women, who clearly change their way of dressing and behavior because of him. The deliberate seductive posture sharpens the competition among the girls and gives some power to the Corporate, who inevitably becomes the center of all the attentions.
When almost recovered, McBurney promises his love to the dissatisfied Edwina, sets Ms. Farnsworth’s heart on fire while indulging in frivolous conversation and brandy, but ends up in the bed of Alicia (Fanning), the cheekiest and older of the girls. His reckless behavior triggers an unpremeditated disgrace that will change their lives forever. While the soldier uncovers his darkest side, the women change from sweetly flirtatious to shockingly apprehensive, and everything feels like a punishment for playing the perfidious games of enticement.
Coppola’s direction is competent and mature, but even so, she couldn’t reach the essence of the characters’ emotions. Hence, the tale becomes suffocated with female unanimity and bourgeois pose, aspects that become pronounced by the end, during the most difficult circumstances. Regarding this particular segment of the film, Ms. Farnsworth’s bravery could be much better explored while McBurney’s ultimate torment should have had a longer and convincing healing process.
Sofia Coppola’s adaptation of “The Beguiled” ends up accomplishing the mission with gorgeous visuals, adequate period settings, and nice acting. Yet, it could never bring narrative excellence or add further substance when compared to the 1971 classic version released by the hand of Don Siegel.