Empire (UK) - - ON.SCREEN - Damon Wise

OUT 14 July Cert 15 / 94 mins

Di­rec­tor Sofia Cop­pola CAST Ni­cole Kid­man, Kirsten Dunst, Colin Far­rell, Elle Fan­ning

plot Dur­ing the Amer­i­can Civil War, wounded Union soldier John Mcbur­ney (Far­rell) is taken in by Vir­ginia’s Sem­i­nary For Young Ladies. Here he fas­ci­nates — and se­duces — both teach­ers and stu­dents. But his ac­tions have con­se­quences…

THE BIG­GEST SUR­PRISE about Sofia Cop­pola’s re­make of Don Siegel’s 1971 Clint East­wood ve­hi­cle is how much more conventional it is. Siegel’s film comes after the psy­che­delic ’60s at the dawn of the po­lit­i­cal, para­noid ’70s, with the decade’s anti-war zeit­geist, fem­i­nist move­ment and Pres­i­dent Nixon’s dirty-tricks cam­paign.

Cop­pola seems to have taken out any­thing that might lend it­self to in­ter­pre­ta­tion in any mean­ing­ful mod­ern way, start­ing most ob­vi­ously with the African-amer­i­can maid who fea­tured in the orig­i­nal. It could be con­sid­ered white­wash­ing, but the in­ten­tion is to nar­row the fo­cus down to the story’s barest bones — an iso­lated, re­pressed com­mu­nity of women and girls who re­act to the pres­ence of an at­trac­tive, charis­matic man in their own re­veal­ing way.

East­wood let his ruggedly hand­some star per­sona do most of the work. Far­rell’s John Mcbur­ney how­ever, comes with more am­bi­gu­ity; us­ing his own ac­cent (which is ex­plained), he plays a charm­ing chancer, but a vul­ner­a­ble man who lashes out when cor­nered — a sub­tle tweak that makes for a more sat­is­fy­ing cli­max. There’s also more hu­mour; Cop­pola fre­quently pulls the rug out from un­der Mcbur­ney’s feet, hav­ing fun — at his ex­pense — with the idea of what it re­ally means to be the man of the house.

Enough of him, be­cause The Beguiled is re­ally about the women, and Cop­pola em­ploys her cast to per­fec­tion. Ni­cole Kid­man is the school’s moth­erly Miss Farnsworth and Kirsten Dunst her re­pressed un­der­ling Ed­wina. Un­der their charge we have a mix­ture of the in­no­cent and the not-so-in­no­cent, with Elle Fan­ning a stand­out as the de­ter­mined Ali­cia, whose de­signs aren’t quite as la­dy­like as the oth­ers. The drama un­folds as Mcbur­ney be­gins to play one against the other, not re­al­is­ing that, as the web is spun around him — he is the fly and not the spi­der.

Cop­pola’s films can roughly be split into two groups — films about fe­male ca­ma­raderie and films about fe­male lone­li­ness. In the for­mer we find The Vir­gin Sui­cides and The Bling Ring. In the lat­ter there’s Lost In Trans­la­tion, Marie

An­toinette and, ar­guably, Some­where, which tells a fa­ther’s story from the per­spec­tive of his dis­ap­pointed daugh­ter. This is some­where in the mid­dle, the story of seven women alone to­gether, and fea­tures some of her most en­joy­able work yet.

The Beguiled’s haunt­ing, im­mer­sive mood-world is far re­moved from the harsh dig­i­tal re­al­ity of her pre­vi­ous film, The Bling

Ring, prov­ing she can turn her hand to what­ever cap­tures her imag­i­na­tion. And while it may not prove to be Cop­pola’s best or most last­ing film ( just as it wasn’t for both Siegel and East­wood), it does re­veal her as a con­stantly evolv­ing, ex­per­i­ment­ing tal­ent. And a film­maker to cher­ish.

Verdict cop­pola’s most tra­di­tional film to date is a height­ened, darkly comic, sex­u­ally tense drama that flips the male gaze, to show what hap­pens when a man, for once, gets caught in the crosshairs of de­sire.

Beguiled or be­guil­ing? Miss Martha (Ni­cole Kid­man) with dash­ing soldier John (Colin Far­rell).

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