The Beguiled (2017)

by sfe medusa

the_beguiled_review_elle_fanning_colin_farrell.jpg(dir. Sofia Coppola)

I suppose the overarching moral of this story is: it’s all shits and giggles until someone giggles and shits. Or perhaps it was coquettish-ness, not curiosity, that killed the cat?

I am not familiar with Don Siegel’s 1971 allegedly racier film adaptation of the same Thomas P Cullinan novel, but the sideways glances, provocative comments and simmering sexual tension of Coppola’s version feels much more suited to the self-conscious and aloof methods of modern-day lover-hunting, albeit wearing Civil War-era sheep’s clothing.

Lady Martha (Nicole Kidman) along with her deputy Edwina (Kirsten Dunst) head up a rural Virginia boarding school set in a tangle of overgrown rose bushes, eerie mists, with rumbling war cannons as a soundtrack and a disconcerting stillness that draws attention to the lithe movements of the school attendees: a sharp gaggle with both Christian conduct and caustic wit. We are interested in the bright and intrepid Amy (Oona Laurence), and the 18-year-old Alicia (Elle Fanning), who has more than outgrown innocent flirtation. Both a delight to watch.

Sunlight streams through gaps between the foreboding trees and lends an illusion of a web-like structure, this together with the silky purity of the girls’ dress draw attention to the way this unusual bad-galdem gang undulate as a group, particularly when they carry the wounded soldier Corporal John McBurney (Colin Farrell) into their nest, like a widow spider anthropomorphised.

It’s all girly giggles at the dinner table, casual over-embellishment to impress and earnest expressions of love shared too early until the logistics of having only one male suitor and more than one swooning lady comes to brutal daylight.

Mandatory viewing with William Oldroyd’s recent release Lady Macbeth, it feels like we are finally getting the complex female leads we’ve been waiting for, albeit through using the explosive vindictiveness that supposedly comes from female sexual cabin fever.
Both Coppola and Oldroyd leave us with sweet spots for arguments on “whose fault” it is for the ensuing carnage, and it really feels like a cinematic corner is being turned at the moment in exploring male-female power dynamics. Arousing stuff.