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.