The Beguiled doesnt turn its intensity into urgency
THE BEGUILED (Sofia Coppola). 93 minutes. Opens Friday (June 30). See listing. Rating: NNN Sofia Coppola is taking a lot.
THE BEGUILED (Sofia Coppola). 93 minutes. Opens Friday (June 30). See listing. Rating: NNN
Sofia Coppola is taking a lot of criticism for certain choices in her adaptation of Thomas Cullinans 1968 Civil War novel The Beguiling.
Coppolas version drops the character of Mattie, a Black slave at the Virginia girls school where the story takes place indeed, Coppolas version doesnt have a single mention of slavery in it, and barely acknowledges the war at all. It opens with the explanation that most of the staff have fled, along with the bulk of the students, as the war has raged on in the distance.
Thats deliberate, and it makes sense for the story she wants to tell, which focuses like nearly all of her work on isolated, privileged white women. I can see how people might be getting a little impatient with that.
Still, its Coppolas movie and she can do what she wants as long as someone is willing to fund it. And theres no question that this version of The Beguiled comes at Cullinans novel about a secluded Virginia girls school that takes in a wounded Union soldier from a rather different angle than Don Siegels 1971 adaptation, which starred Clint Eastwood as the craven corporal McBurney and Geraldine Page as the formidable Miss Martha.
Coppola bends the material inward, exploring the way the injured man (Colin Farrell) works to manipulate the repressed desire of the adults (Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst) and the awakening sexuality of their young charges (among them Elle Fanning, Oona Laurence and Angourie Rice).
Theres almost nothing else to the film besides that conflict. In this version, the war is almost an abstraction, something to be avoided beyond the gates and at the dinner table. Its as if Coppola is remixing The Virgin Suicides with the feverish, eroticized undercurrents of Picnic At Hanging Rock, and for a while that works pretty well. Were as isolated as the characters, forced to observe as their little ecosystem of propriety and poise is invaded by a force they cant fully understand.
But a film about stasis risks becoming static itself, and somewhere between the careful framing and the deliberate pace, The Beguiled tips into turgidity, failing to turn intensity into urgency.
It ends with a whimper, which is clearly Coppolas intention, but it lands with a shrug rather than lingering with a chill.