The Beguiled (2017)

The Beguiled
Director: Sofia Coppola
Writer: Sofia Coppola
Based on: Thomas P. Cullinan‘s novel
Remake of: the 1971 film
Cast: Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning, Oona Laurence, Angourie Rice, Addison Riecke, Emma Howard
Seen on: 3.7.2017

John McBurney (Colin Farrell) is an injured Union soldier on the run in the South during the US Civil War. He stumbles upon a girl’s school, led by Miss Martha (Nicole Kidman) and finds pity in the women who don’t turn him in to the Confederate soldiers – at least not until he’s healed and stands a chance to survive. But they keep him under lock and key while they tend to him. The teacher Edwina (Kirsten Dunst) and the girls – above all Carol (Elle Fanning) – are intrigued and excited by the soldier and soon vie for his affections. Not even Miss Martha finds herself unmoved as McBurney tries to turn the situation to his advantage.

The Beguiled is visually stunning, but other than that didn’t blow me away all that much. It’s not bad, but I still prefer the original film (although I didn’t love that one that much either).

I was never much of a fan of Coppola’s films, so it didn’t exactly surprise me that this film didn’t work for me all that well either. Though I have to say that it’s a visual feast with a great cast (who can and do act in the film), so I can’t say that everything about it was bad or worse than the original.

The film deviates strongly in two things from the original (I haven’t read the book, so I can’t say what’s closer to the novel): one, they removed Hallie, the slave, from the narrative, making this on the one hand a strange encapsulated version of the Civil War, and on the other hand, removing a lot of the heart and moral center of the narrative as well. (Removals I didn’t mind at all: the incest and the pedophilia.)

The second big change was the characterization of McBurney: Coppola obviously put in a lot of work to make him less of a mystery and more of a whole character. That has several implications: he becomes more human and a victim, less of a villain, especially because Coppola also dials down his manipulative streak (which I found regrettable). And yet, somehow the key sentence that unlocked his character in the older film for me at least partially (“After all I’ve been through, I deserve this.”) was unfortunately missing in this version.

In the end, though, the most engaging thing about the film for me, was to compare it to the other version and see where they differ. And while the advantage isn’t clearly with the older film, it would be my preferred choice.

Summarizing: Not bad, but not great either.

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