Nicole Kidman

The Beguiled (2017)

I’m unsure what it is at the moment, but period dramas are becoming my highly anticipated films of the year. The first instance was My Cousin Rachel, and the second is Sofia Coppola’s latest venture with The Beguiled.

Set in the 1800s during the American Civil War, the film had the promise of being a rather tense affair. It’s clear that Sofia Coppola’s has adoration for costume pieces, especially after Marie Antoinette but also the use of clothing and accessories in less-than-forgettable The Bling Ring.

It has to be said though, the opening forty or so minutes of The Beguiled do slog their way through the narrative as it tries building toward the tense and gripping affair it looked to be. As the Civil War is underway, the placement of the school in Virginia is excellent, as you hear to not-so far off gunshots and explosions as the war rages into it’s third year.

But with that comes a certain sense of innocence, as Amy (Oona Laurence) hums a playful tune whilst looking for mushrooms to pick. Amy stumbles across the injured John McBurney, (Colin Farrell) an injured Corporal of the Union army, who happens to have deserted the war effort. With good intentions, she brings him back to Miss Martha’s school, which causes an immediate disruption to the school.

Although the film does stand at around an hour and a half, it is a slow burner to begin with, which makes it feel longer. But Coppola dresses the screen with this aforementioned adoration of the dresses and the setting of the house, interior and exterior. The cast all eventually come into their own as they fight for the affections of Corporal McBurney, which does reach breaking point. The tension between Edwina (Kirsten Dunst) and Alicia (Elle Fanning) is brilliant, especially as Elle Fanning channels her performance from The Neon Demon.

Each of the girls within the school is given apt time on screen, with the large chunk revolving around Miss Martha, (Nicola Kidman) Edwina and Alicia. Farrell is given enough time to spin his web within the house and what began as resentment for the ‘Yank’ soon became affection as each of the girls begin tussling for his attention and affection.

Her choice to leave the screen almost devoid of music for the first forty to fifty minutes really helped accentuate the wartime effort that engulfed Virginia. The natural noises mixed perfectly with the placement of Miss Martha’s home and often at times gave it a claustrophobic feeling as the film progress towards it’s climax. But when the tension of the music kicked in, it elevated the screen tenfold.

My only issue with the film is that opening forty minutes. Once it is past this hump and John McBurney incites the line ‘vengeful bitches’ The Beguiled really comes into it’s own. Especially with the performances from Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst and Elle Fanning as they try to play off each other. Sofia Coppola continues the trend of having intriguing female characters and created enough of a story to keep it’s head above water going into the final half of the film. And that last shot is just gorgeous.

Before I Go To Sleep (2014)

To potentially combat the domination of Marvel and DC in the film market, there has recently been a ‘boom’ in films adapted from mystery thriller novels such as Gone Girl, The Girl on the Train, Child 44 and Before I Go To Sleep. The latter seemingly fell by the wayside as Gone Girl came out around the same time as Before I Go To Sleep.

Memory loss being at the centre of a film is always difficult to convey and has only rarely come out excellently, the best example being Momento. Before I Go To Sleep has memory loss at the very centre of this tale, as Nicole Kidman takes on this challenging role of Christine.

Christine (Nicole Kidman) is a forty-year old woman who wakes up every morning not remembering anything. (Think 50 First Dates, but way more serious)
She wakes up in strange surroundings, and next to a strange man. Instantly she freaks out, only to be assured by the strange man that he is her husband, Ben (Colin Firth). He also informs Christine that she was in a car accident ten years earlier, which resulted in her memory loss.

It’s always difficult to construe memory loss convincingly on film, as the two most popular films to contain this are Momento and 50 First Dates and they are very, very different films. Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth shoulder this immeasurable task of convincingly act it out.

Not only would Kidman and Firth have to act out such a tough task, but the way Rowan Joffe has to keep the story interesting enough without ruining it within the first ten minutes. Having the inclusion of Dr. Nasch at this early stage and the small-scale cast keeps the story at the centre of the film, and of course interesting as it plays immediately on Christine’s suspicions about everyone.

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Dr. Nasch manages to convince Christine that he has been treating her for some months on her accident. He gifts her a video camera to keep a video diary and helping her remember information from the day previous. As the days and the treatment continues, Christine learns more, including that it wasn’t a car accident, but rather a brutal attack where she was left for dead.

As the film bores into it’s hour and a half runtime, Joffe keeps dripping other essences into the film and making us second-guess and triple-guess our assumptions made initially. And of course, what is a mystery thriller without a tense sense or two? Joffe plays out one of these scenes beautifully, gripping you to the very core.

I believe this comes down the culmination of the score, the setting and of course the acting from Kidman and Firth. Before I Go To Sleep manages to sustain the effectiveness of this memory loss through Nicole Kidman, but the surrounding Kidman with Firth and Mark Strong make up an excellent small-scale cast.

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Unfortunately for Before I Go To Sleep, Gone Girl outgunned it as they came out at similar points, yet it didn’t deserve to be as it manages to hold its own for the 90 minute runtime. Joffe creates a wonderfully tense piece of filmmaking, which is only helped on by the intimate cast of Kidman, Firth and Strong.

Before I Go To Sleep is deserving of being included in more conversations when compared to the likes of Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train (two films seemingly being compared with each other at this moment in time) as its beautifully tense and expertly acted out by the cast. Joffe manages to expertly dangle this tense thriller involving memory loss throughout the story with precision and still making it an enjoyable film to watch.