‘The Beguiled’ (2017) – Sydney Film Festival Review

Intrigue, mystery, seduction and temptation…are all prominent tones in Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled. Sofia Coppola definably redeems herself after the panned The Bling Ring. Although she’ll never be able to reach the heights of Lost in Translation, her latest film is well worth a look!

Set in Rural Mississippi during the Civil War, a young girl from an all-girl boarding school stumbles across a wounded Yankee soldier John McBurney (Colin Farrell). She takes him back the school run by Ms. Martha Farnsworth (Nicole Kidman) with Kirsten Dunst as a teacher and five remaining pupils. As John manipulates all the women, their affections for him begin to grow, forming tensions within the house…

The Beguiled is a slow-burning melodrama that lures audiences into the most spell-binding atmospheric setting Coppola has created. The film beautifully captures the impact of losing innocence through the temptations of lust and desire. The audience is positioned as a voyeur watching both Kidman and Dunst’s characters’ struggle not to fall under the sexual charms of John McBurney. The audience undeniably knows John’s advances are a desperate plea not to be turned over to the Confederacy.

The Beguiled is based on the 1966 novel and is a remake of the 1971 film. Unlike the previous film, The Beguiled is from the female’s perspectives with a more feminist approach. The women are painted in a less negative light. There are many shades of grey in the choices made to ensure survival, leaving it up to the audience to decide and judge the actions of the characters.

The film has moments of black comedy and it is a surprising relief for the audience, with the film’s southern gothic genre. The Beguiled could have easily been bogged down with exceedingly serious undertones. Under Coppola’s direction, the actresses play up the scenes when all the women desperately plea for John’s attention.

The film’s only downfall was a lack of tension in many of the scenes. The film moves at a slow pace and doesn’t have many variations in tempo. There are many moments of heightened tension in the film (won’t name spoilers), which could have been played out differently to create a bigger impact. Perhaps it was Coppola’s intention to present the film as a slice of life?

Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst and Colin Farrell are all outstanding. The moody, claustrophobic setting and ambiguous story is thought-provoking, making for interesting discussions. The Beguiled comes with a high recommendation.

The Beguiled made its Australian premiere at Sydney Film Festival on June 17

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