The Beguiled (2017)
Just got around to watching this, which I had saved on my PVR. For anyone who doesn’t know, this is a remake of the original 1971 film by Don Siegel, that starred Clint Eastwood.
Adapted from a novel of the same name, it is set during the US Civil War, in 1864. In war-torn Virginia, only a few girls remain at an academy for young ladies. Still being taught, and working the land to survive, they hope to see out the war safely, by staying in seclusion. Then one day, the youngest girl is searching for mushrooms in the woods, and comes across a wounded Union soldier. Despite him being an enemy, she takes pity on him, and helps him back to the school.
His arrival among the girls and two older women teachers causes a stir. At first they think to hand him over to Confederate patrols, but the novelty of having a man in the old plantation house makes the owner change her mind. She tends his wounds instead, and allows him to stay locked in a room until he has recovered enough to become a prisoner of war. The mixed ages of the women and girls means we see a range of emotions toward the man. From the repressed sexuality of the older lonely women, the curiousity of the pubescent younger girls, and the youngest one who looks upon him as an older brother.
The scene is set for a dangerous mix of passions to explode in the closed atmosphere of the school.
Director Sophia Coppola offers us a muted colour palette, a real sense of the summer heat in Virginia, and glances and nuances that betray the desire of the females, and their Union prisoner too. The casting is first-rate, with Colin Farrell as the Irishman who no longer wants to fight, seeing an easy life is possible by staying shut away with the women and girls. The owner of the school is played by Nicole Kidman with her usual flair, and the excellent Kirsten Dunst shines as the sexually-repressed woman who lusts after contact with the handsome man. The other girls in the cast capture the mood of the 19th century very well, and as each one encounters the man during his stay, they manage to perfectly convey their change in attitude to him.
As he grows stronger, and is able to mix with them, the soldier begins to take advantage of his unusual situation, and things build to a satisfying climax. All of this is packed into a suitably short running time that never stretches to boredom, or uses ‘fillers’. It sounds good, doesn’t it? And it is.
But, there’s a big BUT.
The whole thing is pretty much a scene by scene remake of the original 1971 film. In that one, Eastwood plays the soldier as a more sleazy and opportunistic character, and we always know his intentions. The women in that first film are less attractive too, explaining to some extent why they so easily succumb to his charms. Siegel gives us a more lurid film, as suits the story, and the sense of overwhelming repressed desire is better handled too.
In short, the remake was completely unnecessary. (They usually are) And the original, in my opinion, is a more satisfying film.
Many others don’t agree with me, I know. That’s up to them.