“The Beguiled” (2017) starring Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning, & Colin Farrell

During the Civil War (1864), the secluded Virginia mansion which serves as Miss Martha Farnsworth’s Seminary for Young Ladies is still running. It is occupied by Miss Martha (Nicole Kidman), a teacher named Edwina (Kirsten Dunst), and 5 teenaged students. Amy (Oona Laurence) stumbles upon Col. John McBurney, a wounded Union deserter near death. The balance in the school is disrupted after the headmistress decides to take in the soldier (while he heals from his leg injury). It’s not long before they find themselves competing for the man’s attention/favor.

To be surrounded by talented, decent, smart, insightful creative and serious women – I was spoiled by Sofia Coppola who set a particular mood of comfort, ease and trust. It allows you as an actor to play and explore. -Colin Farrell

Sofia Coppola (daughter of Francis Ford Coppola) chose the 1.66 : 1 aspect ratio b/c she wanted to make the film feel claustrophobic. So, this may NOT be the best movie for you if you’re feeling a BIT trapped at home (in quarantine life)! She won the prize of Best Director at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival; this marked the first time in 50 years a woman won the award! The estate used in the film as the main location is the Madewood Plantation House near Napoleonville, LA. The same location was also used for portions of Beyoncé’s long-form music video Lemonade (2016). Interior scenes were filmed in the New Orleans home of actress Jennifer Coolidge. The film was shot over 26 days. The cast went through several lessons during filming: sewing, dancing, etiquette, corset training. They also had to cook and eat meals together. A Civil War reenactor demonstrated how to dress wounds. A priest explained prayers from the Book of Matthew. Costume designer Stacey Battat saw Dunst’s character as being romantic; her wardrobe had decorated billowy sleeves, diaphanous skirts, and more jewelry than the others. She gave Kidman’s character a high neckline and a vest to denote authority.

I think she’s unique. It was like watching a virtuoso or an incredible athlete. We’d do a scene, and she’d have five different emotions going on at the same time. -Sofia Coppola re: Nicole Kidman

Coppola stated multiple times that this is not a remake of The Beguiled (1971), but an adaption of the same source novel by Thomas Cullinan. Since the adapted screenplay of the 1971 film (which I haven’t seen yet) is credited in Coppola’s film together w/ the novel, story elements from the earlier screenplay have been used, too. McBurney’s heritage was not changed to suit Farrell’s natural accent; the character is Irish in the book. The character Hallie was cut from the film; she’s a slave and the only person of color in both the novel and the 1971 film. Coppola explained that as slavery was such an important topic, she didn’t want to treat it lightly; she felt she should focus on these women cut off from the world.

McBurney: If you could have anything, what’s your biggest wish? If you could have anything in the world, what would it be?

Edwina: Anything?

McBurney: Yeah. Anything.

Edwina: To be taken far away from here.

[rushes out of the room]

This is a short (a little over 90 mins.) movie that was made for about $10.5M. The languid pace will turn off viewers who want excitement. Several critics/viewers have commented that this is a matter of style (visuals) over substance (characterization, tension, etc.) We know Kidman can handle any role she is given; her first movie was at age 18 (I think). I did see potential in Dunst’s character; she is very lovely (but looking a tad bit heavier in her mid-30s). I’ve learned that she still eats meat and hates extreme exercise. I also liked the ambiguous nature which Farrell portrayed; he is still quite youthful (though he also isn’t very slim here). Fanning (her older sis Dakota is also an actress) looks stunning; she may have a big career in the future. In a bold move, her character sneaks into the soldier’s room and kisses him (while he is asleep)! The acting is very good all-around, but this story just felt under-cooked.

[1] This is a slow-burning movie that picks up steam as it moves along, leading to an extended climax that provides plenty of effective drama. …it does suffer from the style-over-substance syndrome and ultimately feels hollow at times.

[2] Sofia Coppola delivers a quiet, sparse tale of female competitive power. McBurney is no saint either. It’s an empty fleeting world especially with the slaves abandoning the mansion. There is something eerie about this creation. I do want for more tension or more horror like Misery. It’s hard to sympathize with any of the characters. Maybe she should concentrate on Edwina as the only protagonist. This has a nice haunted vibe, but I don’t feel for anybody.

[3] This is Coppola trying on something closer to a piece of Gothic literature… this is her trying to tackle one of the Brontes, only through cinematic grammar. She rarely uses music in the film, certainly not much at all in the first half, and when it comes up it’s eerie and brooding, a low synth that sounds like someone is somewhere about to do something sinister. Or, in this case, giving what may be just desserts for some.

The acting: it’s all wonderful, but Dunst is the one that I hope people remember the most here. Farrell and Kidman are the leads, but she’s the one who has the most inner conflict, the person in this tale who has so much responsibility with these girls while at the same time wanting to choose her own path…

[4] The story is rather slow in pace, but the interaction between the characters are well portrayed. The women’s jealousy and rivalry are palpable, while the soldier’s mind tricks on them are not so nice. The story turns dramatically in the middle, and it become a story of survival. It is worth watching, especially for the cast.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

5 thoughts on ““The Beguiled” (2017) starring Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning, & Colin Farrell

  1. Kidman was the reason I didn’t see this. It’s astounding to me that she’s made it as far professionally as she has. I just saw “Being the Ricardos” and I spent most of the film going “why is she IN this?” Uch. (Great script, by the way. But she can’t act.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • A few days ago, my (online) friend/movie critic/media prof said that it was disappointing as well. Then I heard on NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour that they weren’t impressed either by the movie.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks for pointing me to the NPR piece. For the record, I am not a huge “I Love Lucy” fan (I have seen the episodes that I teach).

        I think it’s probably fair to say that it was tv-like (like most of what Aaron Sorkin writes). I agree that it looks like television, but then, it’s a film about a television show, so no surprise there. It also compresses the history in ways that could potentially make one politically uncomfortable (e.g., Arnaz’s father fled Batista, not Castro), although strangely they didn’t have a problem with that. I loved the framing and the back and forth in time. But I think there are things they are not correct about: the movie did a good job of pointing out the many fault lines in that marriage — and that’s why it was called “being the Ricardos” — can’t believe they missed that. It was really a film not about Lucy and Desi but everything that went into creating the identities that appeared in that very popular show that was the result of a lot of care, but involved some direct betrayals of their identities. I thought it was neat to see how TV was written back then (and to see the constraints that creatives had to deal with). They also have a really different perception than I do of how people remember Lucy. In my parents’ generation and up, everyone knew who Lucy was from films, and very few people knew who Desi was.

        Kidman is okay when she’s playing “Lucy” — because Lucy is all physical comedy and not so much acting. But unfortunately she’s lousy as Lucille, in part because as usual she manages about three different facial expressions.

        And there’s stuff that I think is just nonsense. You can’t play a Cuban if you’re not Cuban? Please. The real Desi’s ancestry was Spanish. I think honor was satisfied.

        Like

      • Wow- sounds pretty interesting! I saw some of the show & a few movies w/ Lucy when she was young also. Well, gonna have to see soon! It’s now streaming on Amazon for free.

        Like

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