Two idioms repeatedly pop into mind when watching Sofia Coppola’s 2017 remake of “The Beguiled.” “A fox in the henhouse” and “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” neatly encapsulate the atmosphere within this tense drama set near the end of the Civil War.
Colin Farrell plays John McBurney, an injured Yankee soldier who is discovered by Marie (Addison Riecke),a young girl in Virginia. She takes him back to the boarding home where she and a number of other young girls reside under the strict eyes of Martha Farnsworth (Nicole Kidman) and Edwina Dabney (Kirsten Dunst) The moment McBurney arrives in front of the other women the straining of their moral fiber is palatable. Battles wage within each of them while deciding to do what they should, what they want, or what they desire.
If they tie a blue ribbon on the front gate it will notify Confederate Soldiers to come and collect him. But, due to the severity of his wounds, that would surely be a death sentence, and they don’t want his blood on their hands. Martha decides that they will nurse him back to health and then send him on his way. As he slowly recovers, the girls fear gives way to curiosity, and then to desire, as each begins to crave the attention of their special visitor. Knowing a good thing when he sees it, McBurney begins to work his charm on each of the women individually.
Coppola has done an impressive job with the script, knowing when to mimic the dialog of the 1971 version and knowing when to deviate. While both versions tell nearly identical stories, the remake feels far more polished and twists the morality tale away from black and white into a muddled gradient of gray. Are the intentions of these characters malevolent? Selfish? Or just human? At times it’s nearly impossible to tell which lends to the building tension in the first half of the movie. The audience knows at some point, something bad will happen. But when? And How? We all know the extremes to which people will go when they allow themselves to be governed by primal emotions.
This film isn’t all tension and dread, though. Coppola’s version revels in a layer of devilishly dark humor that’s unexpected. The cinematography is also exceptional, crafting this dreamlike haven that the women exist, isolated within.
Some have called this remake unnecessary, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Instead, it’s a perfect example of a remake done right. The concept may remain the same, but the language of the story and the way it ultimately makes you feel is entirely different.
“The Beguiled” opens in NY/LA on 6/23/17 and expands to all US markets on 6/30/17