The Beguiled has all the makings of a Sofia Coppola movie. It’s a group of women getting by day to day in a remote home where nothing much happens. It’s got the lingering closeups and montages of 1800s accoutrements like The Bling Ring obsessed over celebrity closets. It’s about young people forced to grow up too fast. Yet, as much as Coppola adapts The Beguiled to her deliberate pace, it feels rushed and incomplete.
Amy (Oona Lawrence) finds wounded Civil War soldier John McBurny (Colin Farrell) in the woods. Her teacher Martha Farnsworth (Nicole Kidman) takes McBurney in and instructs the girls (Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning, Angourie Rice and Addison Riecke) to keep away from him. So you know what’s going to happen.
The girls all start showing off for McBurney but pretending they’re not. There’s plenty of innuendo and apple pie is both a metaphor and a chance for each character to take some credit for playing some part in the dessert McBurney is enjoying. McBurney himself is a blank cypher for each of their needs. We don’t learn much about him or even spend much time with him away from the women. I get that it’s from their perspective and he becomes what each of the students wants him to be, but each character really only has one scene to identify what that is.
When romantic entanglements begin, it’s too sudden. None of the characters had developed those feelings for more than one scene each. Just give each of them one extra scene with McBurney so we can get invested in their individual connection to him.
A few things happen slightly differently than the 1971 version, and that gives interesting new twists to the plot. The climax plays like a powder keg going off, but I think that could still have been achieved spending 10-15 more minutes building the relationships before things got heated.
The film is too dark. Coppola employs natural lighting, so a lot of scenes are only candlelit. But even outdoors and sun lit windows are dim. It doesn’t look like Barry Lyndon, even though it was shot on film and I saw a 35mm print.
Perhaps the good news is that the brisk 90 minute The Beguiled is not boring, but I think it skips over some necessary character development for the sake of being more ambiguous. I really don’t know what else to say, so I’ll just end with this: Ooooooooooooona! Oooooooooooprah! Oooooooooooooona! Oooooooooooooprah!