Magazine article Variety

The Beguiled

Magazine article Variety

The Beguiled

Article excerpt


The Beguiled

Director: Sofia Coppola

Starring: Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning

Don Siegel's 1971 Civil War drama "The Beguiled," starring Clint Eastwood as a wounded Union soldier hiding out at a girls' boarding school in Mississippi, is a quintessential film of the early '70s - a crudely lit piece of baroque exploitation, "gripping" yet overwrought, with the plot of, basically, a porn film. Eastwood's character falls into one bed after another, and he receives a shockingly cruel punishment when Geraldine Page, as the repressed headmistress, makes the vengeful decision to amputate his injured leg for dubious medical reasons. "The Beguiled" is like mediocre Tennessee Williams staged by Sam Peckinpah as a third-wave-feminist horror film. Yet there's no denying it's a picture of its time.

So why would Sofia Coppola want to remake it? If you're the sort of moviegoer who favors decorous drama over porno leering, then you may actually like Coppola's coolly pensive and sober new version. But anyone else may wonder what, exactly, the movie thinks it's doing.

Coppola's "Beguiled" is a handsomely shot and mounted production, full of stately images of moss-draped trees, and it flows along reasonably enough, streamlined down to a crisp 94 minutes. But if the writer-director sticks close to the basic story of the 1971 version (and the book that spawned it), she changes the tone so that the characters, for a good while, seem less luridly dominated by their animal instincts. Coppola has made the material "subtler" but in the process has amputated its essential charge.

Corporal John McBurney, now played by Colin Farrell, is a Union deserter nursing a wounded leg, but the film doesn't portray him as the scurrilous manipulator Eastwood's McBurney was. Here, he only recently came over from Dublin as a mercenary, so he has no investment in the Civil War. Farrell speaks in his Irish accent, giving the character the courtly appeal of a gentleman prole.

At Miss Farnsworth's Seminary for Young Ladies, McBurney, after getting his leg sewn up, treats the school's teachers and five students with chivalrous charm, and the movie doesn't appear to hold the fact he's a bit of a flirt against him. The 1971 version opened with Eastwood's character planting a kiss on the lips of the 12-year-old girl who rescues him, but Coppola drops the pervy overtones. …

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