Friday, June 30. 2017 marks the official theatrical release of The Beguiled, following its earlier premiere at the Cannes Film Festival this past May. Nerd Nation Magazine was in attendance for the early press screener Monday, June 26, 2017 courtesy of Focus Features, Allied Marketing, and Regal Cinemas.
Based on Thomas P. Cullinan‘s 1966 novel (originally published as “A Painted Devil”) and the original 1971 film adaptation of the same name, which starred Clint Eastwood and Geraldine Page, director Sofia Coppola‘s 2017 reimagining of The Beguiled is a Southern Gothic period drama/thriller set in Virginia during the American Civil War.
In the interest of full disclosure, it is important for me to point out that up to and including the time of this writing I had not previously read the original novel, nor seen the original film adaptation, so I admittedly won’t be qualified to compare this film with any of its source material. That being said, upon initially viewing the trailer, I was quite excited to see what was promised to be a chilling, subtly creepy, thrill-ride of seduction, intrigue, and revenge. Unfortunately, that is not quite what I received.
The Beguiled tells the story of Corporal John McBurney (played by Colin Farrell), a wounded Union soldier who upon being discovered by a young girl is taken back to the all girls boarding school in rural Virginia ran by headmistress Martha Farnsworth (played by Nicole Kidman). After a bit of debate whether to turn the wounded man over to the Confederate soldiers, Ms. Farnsworth decides to allow him to stay with them while they tend to his injuries and nurse him back to health. Over the course of his stay, John begins to seduce the various girls at the school, including teaching assistant Edwina (Kirsten Dunst of Spider-Man, Melancholia, and The Virgin Suicides) and student Alicia (Elle Fanning of Super 8 and The Neon Demon). After tensions finally boil over, and disaster strikes, however, things suddenly take a frightening and bizarre turn when the soldier becomes desperate, paranoid, and violent, forcing the debonaire women of Farnsworth’s School to deal with the situation. In the interest of remaining SPOILER FREE, I won’t say anything more than that, but I assure you all, dear readers, there is much more to the story.
Now, despite my earlier statement of this film not being exactly what I expected, and not particularly what was advertised in the trailers, this was not a bad film. Far from it, in fact. Sofia Coppola did an absolutely marvelous job directing, with absolutely stellar cinematography, outstanding period-accurate settings and wardrobes, and an all-star cast who all absolutely delivered as anyone would expect. Absolutely none of this was the problem. It was more that the film just tended to drag on through most of its runtime, without managing to really explore any of the characters properly, or really give much depth to any of them.
There could have been so much more understated sinister creepiness going on, so much more sexual tension, so much more intrigue, and so much more… well, everything. As it stands, audiences basically just got what they got, and that was it. Mind you, not everyone agrees, as Coppola did take home the honors of Best Director at Cannes this year, and sure, she absolutely deserved it for some beautiful techincal work here, I just feel that so much more could have been with the story, and so many more taboos of the time could have been addressed. Instead this was just way too homogonzied, and it felt like she was just playing everything way too safe.
The Bottom Line:
Overall, The Beguiled is a beautifully shot, brilliantly acted, and amazing well produced film, and exactly none of that stops it from also being rather disappointing and at times even a bit boring. As stated above, everything just felt way too play-it-safe and paint-by-numbers period drama, and just really didn’t deliver what was advertised in the trailer. Is it worth seeing? Absolutely. Is it really worth paying theater prices to see? Well, not so much unless you’re all about the aesthetic and admittedly masterful cinematic art on display. Otherwise, I’d suggest just waiting for this one to land on your favorite streaming service. – 6.5/10
Editor: Nerd Nation Magazine