Set in rural Mississippi during the Civil War, The Beguiled finds a wounded northern soldier (Colin Farrell) taken in by the ‘Farnsworth Seminary for Young Ladies’.
Sofia Coppola remakes this Clint Eastwood film from 1971 as a black comedy, full of ridiculous melodrama and hokey dialogue. The line “Edwina, bring me the anatomy book!” is straight out of Mommie Dearest. The difference is that Coppola appears to know what she’s doing.
For starters the film looks great, with particularly pleasing cinematography and costumes. This prestigious production design makes the wild lurches in tone feel all the more bizarre, as the movie veers between period farce and Stephen King.
It’s not just scenes that feel knowingly incongruous, but entire performances. Nicole Kidman is always a treat to watch, and she steals every scene as the headmistress Miss Martha (like Doctor Who fans don’t). Her Southern-accented French turn of phrase is especially enjoyable, while the staircase scene is hilariously over the top.
Another part of its feminist satire is to depict the women as comically starved of male attention, and the scenes in which they take turns spending time with the handsome soldier feel oddly reminiscent of I Wanna Marry “Harry“ in which the same thing happens. Or so I’ve heard.
The Beguiled is a strange film, destined for campy cultdom. One moment, you’re watching a cringey romance. The next, someone’s thrown a turtle across the room. Beguiling? No. Bewildering? Certainly.