Derek Winnert


This article was written on 11 Jul 2017, and is filled under Reviews.

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The Beguiled ** (2017, Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning) – Movie Review

Director Sofia Coppola says she is adapting the original novel but that still means she remakes Don Siegel’s 1971 The Beguiled, thus inviting comparisons with the Clint Eastwood classic. This is a strange and unwise move.

Coppola gives herself a writing credit too – ‘written for the screen by Sofia Coppola’. Now just how hard was that? – there is a (pretty great) source novel by Thomas Cullinan (the one she says she is adapting) and a previous (pretty great) screenplay by Albert Maltz and Irene Kamp to work from (also credited).

Now does Coppola bring something different to the table? Is her film a new take, or just a boring straight remake? Judging from all the laughter in the cinema, at both the lusty stuff and (incredibly) the horror stuff, Coppola may have intended to turn what was originally a horror movie into a black comedy. If so, and it’s not at all clear, this is a horrible misjudgment. The movie should run very like Misery as a horror movie with some dark comments about humanity and perhaps some underlying black humour. Stephen King must surely have seen or read The Beguiled (1971) when he wrote Misery.

Colin Farrell proves no Clint Eastwood as wounded Union soldier Corporal John McBurney, found wounded and taken in for nursing care to a girls’ school in Virginia during the American Civil War.

And Nicole Kidman proves no Geraldine Page as Miss Martha, the peculiar head of the seminary where its young women have been sheltered from the outside world.

In a short film, Coppola spends for ever building up the sexual tension and rivalries – we get it, Farrell is meant to be sexy, and the girls and women are all sex starved, it’s the Victorian era so they’re just supposed to look on and lust inwardly, that kind of thing can be established in three minutes, five minutes tops of screen time, but it goes on at least an hour.

To be fair, looking frustrated and lustful himself, Farrell isn’t bad, emoting a lot, frowning a lot, looking well fed up a lot, and at least keeping his own Irish accent. But again, he’s no Clint Eastwood. The movie is all about emasculation of men by women. You have to have an ultimate ‘man’ in the role to be destroyed by women and their lusts, and Eastwood was just that in 1971 and Farrell just isn’t that in 2017. Some real American hunk of beefcake would have been better. What could Chris Pratt, Chris Evans, Chris Pine or Mark Wahlberg have made of it?

At the start of Eastwood’s Beguiled, he seems like he’s inches from death. Farrell just has a nasty leg wound. It takes Eastwood for ever to get better. Farrell comes round pretty darned fast. Eastwood’s Beguiled seems real, Farrell’s just pretend. Siegel’s Beguiled is a man’s man movie. Coppola’s Beguiled is quite girly.

Kidman tries to get by on a variant of her performance in The Others, but this role and this movie are something other. She is wrong for the role, looks much too young (she was 50 on 20 June 2015 but looks 35), and, however good an Oscar-winning actress she may be [The Hours (2002)], just can’t suggest a woman who would go made with unbridled lust. She’s way too much a screen goddess for this role. [Spoiler alert} Then again, like Lady Macbeth, she goes from aloofly chilly to murderously crazy at a moment’s notice.

Elle Fanning is OK in a one-note performance wearing costumes designed to ‘really accentuate her horniness’, but Kirsten Dunst (in her fourth collaboration with the director) gives the film’s best performance as mature but romantically incline teacher Edwina.

Alas, too, in Coppola’s screenplay there is none of the unexpected turns of events the synopsis promises, especially of course if you have seen the 1971 movie, which I strongly advise you to do.

Like Kidman, Coppola is an Oscar winner too – for Best Original Screenplay for Lost in Translation (2003). That was richly deserved. She also won Best Director at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival for The Beguiled. That is completely mysterious. It plays like a posh end TV movie, a Victorian period adaptation. It is efficiently and cleanly directed but entirely bland and anonymous. It could be the smoothly professional work of any director on a Miss Marple or Midsomer Murders series film.

Bizarrely, it was the first time in 50 years a woman has won the Best Director award at the Cannes Film Festival, and only the second time overall.

Awkwardly, Coppola said she felt slavery was such an important topic that she did not want to treat it lightly, and so cut the character of the slave Hallie, the story’s only person of colour, from her remake.

The interior scenes were filmed in the New Orleans home of actress Jennifer Coolidge. The estate used as the main location is the Madewood Plantation House near Napoleonville, Louisiana. Thus it looks good, and is filmed fast and economically in just 26 days and for only $10,500,000, though Kidman and Farrell’s sponge scene alone required several takes and took two hours.

Ah well, some things are worth lingering over, possibly.

© Derek Winnert 2017  Movie Review

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