If you’re going to remake a film you need a good reason. Director Sofia Coppola had that good reason for The Beguiled, but it feels like she forgot it halfway through.
Coppola’s work is a remake of a 1971 film, which is in turn based on a 1966 Southern Gothic novel of the same name. If that timeline is vaguely confusing, you might be able to forgive her for translating that confusion into her work.
The film is set around a girls’ school in Virginia during the Civil War where only a few students remain. One of the younger students happens across a wounded Union soldier (played by the infinitely watchable Colin Farrell) while out searching for mushrooms and helps him back to the school for respite.
Nicole Kidman piques interest as the matronly headmistress conflicted in her role of providing a respectable role model for her students and wanting to de-pant Farrell. Kirsten Dunst is bemusing as the forlorn and possibly sexually repressed teacher. But the gaggle of students, for which Elle Fanning plays an almost over the top flirty deviant, is an interesting study into how not to write female stereotypes; The horny one, the kind fat one, the talented musician, the quiet weirdo, and the miscellaneous fifth one you’ll forget.
It’s just disappointing, really. Coppola’s goal of changing the narrative to reflect the female perspective should have been tongue-in-cheek, strengthening and empowering; instead, it leaves an off taste in the mouth. The relationships between the women and girls dissolve almost as soon as Farrell’s character arrives. A sudden inability to process complex emotions pops up along with his presence, summoning the craziness within each woman. You know, the usual girly stuff.
Coppola wanted to show this story from the scope of the women but didn’t update the off-putting message that women fall to pieces when a hot piece of Irish soldier falls into their laps. There are genuinely quite silly moments in this film. These are intentional moments where Coppola wants you to laugh. She points out laughable incompatibility when the social norms of the time sit so awkwardly alongside a psycho-sexual descension into chaos. But awkward humour is not strong enough to push past the well trodden, sexist character arcs.
For a work that is visually stunning and executed with a glorious accuracy in its cinematography, the overall product is a confused film that can’t decide what it is. If the title is anything to go by, The Beguiled will leave you feeling just that.
THE BEGUILED is in Australian theatres from July 13.