#REVIEW: “THE BEGUILED”
Review by Siobhán Rich for Mr. Will Wong
Remakes are tricky animals: the director is faced with the dilemma of both honouring the original and putting their own unique stamp on the new Film. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, and sometimes the director hits out of the park and is awarded with the Best Director Award at Cannes. The Beguiled elevates itself above the source material and marks a welcome return to form for Writer/Director Sophia Coppola.
The Film opens in 1863 when Amy (Southpaw’s Oona Laurence) discovers a wounded Union soldier (Colin Farrell) near her boarding school. The other residents of the school are less eager to assist the Irishman but the school’s headmistress, Martha Farnsworth (Nicole Kidman with a well-practiced southern accent) agrees to sew his leg up and nurse him back to health. During his convalescence, Corporal McBurney meets all the residents of the school including the disenchanted Alicia (Elle Fanning) and the sole remaining teacher, Edwina Dabney (a woefully underused Kirsten Dunst). As he ingratiates himself into their lives, the residents of the school find themselves changing to suit the enemy solider they have brought into their fold.
Not enough can be said about the exquisite Cinematography from Philippe Le Sourd. Even with the sound of guns and cannons in the background, the opening moments of the Film evoke the sultry beauty of a French impressionist painting. Later, this same juxtaposition is captured when the camera pans across the country side to a scene worthy of a Dutch master marred only by plumes of black smoke to remind the audience of the dark realities of war.
Coppola uses visual contrasts skillfully throughout the Film to build toward the final climax where the tame animal the women have brought into their home finally turns on them. From the clothing choices made by each character to the final scene where they gather united on the front porch but are seen from the other side of the wrought iron fence still imprisoned in their roles by the mores of the time. By removing the male gaze which hangs so prominently over the 1971 Clint Eastwood vehicle, the women of Miss Martha Farnsworth’s School for Girls are each given purpose and enfranchisement.
The greatest triumph of Coppola’s Film over its 1971 predecessor will be in its stamp on film history. The original Movie is known for its male star. While Farrell’s Irish mercenary is interesting enough this remake will be remembered for its stellar female cast. Kidman, Dunst and Fanning play their roles of different phases of female sexual empowerment with a deft touch: Kidman looking for companionship, Dunst searching for love, and Fanning looking to rebel. Even Laurence’s young Amy is given a chance to preen when the Corporal calls her his best friend. Unlike in the Don Siegel-directed original, the soldier is not empowering the women but rather is the tool through which they each find their own strengths.
Hearing that Sophia Coppola is at the helm of any Movie is usually enough to woo any film lover but with The Beguiled the Writer/Director has truly outdone herself and firmly established herself as one of the best directors of her generation.
Universal Pictures Canada opens THE BEGUILED on Friday, June 30, 2017.