When I heard that Sofia Coppola was making a period drama I brushed it aside as perhaps another attempt to try her hand at creating another film similar to Marie Antoinette (2006) and immediately felt a sense of disinterest, but as material released, my interest had peaked and I’m glad it did, as The Beguiled is leagues ahead of the aforementioned film.
The Beguiled follows the story of a group of women living in a manor in 1864 Virginia as they slowly nurse a wounded soldier back to health.
With a host of leading ladies dawning this simple story in 1864 Virginia during the civil war; Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, and Elle Fanning are met with the trying task of displaying individual personalities all the while pursuing the same personal goals throughout the film, getting with Colin Farrell’s character. Now with a story as simple as finding an enemy Union soldier in the woods and nursing him back to health, you would assume the film has a bland taste after 45 minutes; to my surprise director Sofia Coppola adapts a story that keeps you hooked for the near entirety of its brief 94 minute runtime. A lot of the film’s success in keeping me engaged was its constant reference to a story change at any moment, I genuinely couldn’t predict how the film would end, even in the last 15 minutes – however, the films narrative as whole didn’t absorb me to the point of offering immense praise to anything but its production design.
Most of the female performances are soft-spoken and dainty with their words, as these wealthy young women all faun over an injured Colin Farrell. Nicole Kidman offers up a stoic and more reserved personality as she heads as the matriarch of the household, offering perhaps the better performance of the film, though there are moments where her accent can be heard slipping. Kirsten Dunst has scents of sadness, loneliness, and impulsiveness in her character, and while she is a good addition, I get distinct flashbacks to her character in Melancholia (2011) as a depressed young woman. Colin Farrell was very personable, offering good range and his classic angry Irish attitude at moments throughout, his softer personality offered a nice basis for the film to gain momentum around. Though Elle Fanning’s screen-time in the film was brief it was decent enough to gain a pass, though I am feeling a little oversaturated with her appearances in film’s in the past year.
Color changes throughout this film are quite abrupt as we transition from interior and exterior scenes; many of the exterior scenes have a bleaker feeling to them as it implicates the outside with the troubles of the civil war. Most of the interior shots are bright, warm, and offer pristine production design to compliment this sense of safety indoors. The costumes are impeccable, from lightly colored satin, rose-gold dresses, and cleanly presented hairstyles – nearly everything related to production design was Oscar nomination worthy. While much of the film was beautiful, we don’t receive much inventive camera-work compared to Sofia’s past work in films like Lost in Translation (2003), it works well enough to show off the fantastic production design but trembles in comparison to expertly blended films like Pride and Prejudice (2005).
The Beguiled is pleasant to the eye, but doesn’t boast anything beyond a standard drama with clean dialogue. It kept me entertained, yet I still struggle with its murky message that ultimately is lost. The Beguiled never tries to hook you until the very end; despite having a less than clear moral to its overall story, I’m perfectly content with it being a quiet and delicate drama.