Sofia Coppola’s Civil War era battle of the sexes drama is a master class lesson in mood. Sun bursts through overgrown trees, winds waft through tattered curtains, and seemingly inconsequential items like buttons, lace fringe, can help to create drama. The Beguiled is a really fascinating movie.
Colin Farrell is McBurney, a wounded northerner who ends up convalescing at a girls’ school in Virginia. House mother, Miss Martha (Nicole Kidman) is wary, but her right hand, Edwina (Kirsten Dunst) is curious, and young ward Alicia (Elle Fanning) is downright lustful. It’s a slow burn as McBurney heals, and his fate hangs in the air. A drunken evening, a clandestine meeting, an accidental outburst, and suddenly everything changes. The plot isn’t overly complex, but the movie scores with its gentle production, wonderful cinematography, and stunning performances. Both Kidman, an actor I’m not usually on board with, and Dunst, one I am, were amazing. Kidman showcases a delicate ferocity in just her eyes where Dunst wears her melancholy like a cloak. They both convey so much without words.
I made the mistake of reading an article on the film beforehand, one that dealt with the film and Coppola’s only giving voice and face to white women – a bit uncomfortable to say the least for a civil war film. I’d be lying if I said that didn’t color my impression of the film a bit, and I’d like to think that I still would’ve gotten there on my own. There was an awkward sense of character, where the women being held up as heroes, were likely slave owners, a fact that Coppola swerves around in order to maintain enthusiasm. It’s unfortunate, because I think the film would’ve been 1) better served by sticking to the source material (which included women of color) and 2) able to survive the negative characterization their inclusion would’ve implied.
But we will never know. For such a confident filmmaker as Coppola, it’s a shame there wasn’t as much confidence in that aspect. Still, while it detracts from the film, it doesn’t sink it completely.
My Grade – B-