Don't be put off by my title: there is nothing sinister here chaps!! Indeed, with my general 'bloggings' I shall attempt to delight and astound you out of the mundaneness of a middle class suburban life, into the magical world of the Sophster!! Mystical...

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Sophie's Film Choice #22: THE BEGUILED

That's right - two reviews in a week! I think I'm getting a little addicted to afternoons at the cinema: old Doris and Marjorie are starting to recognise me and save me a seat.

After the rip roaring fun of Spider-Man on Monday, Wednesday called for a genre I always hold dear to my heart - a period drama. But not just any period drama - a Southern Gothic thriller. Whether it's Gone With The Wind or Little Women, I've always been partial to a sassy southern belle and a civil war setting, so I was looking forward to Sofia Coppolla's take on Thomas Cullinan's pulp classic, The Beguiled. Knowing very little about the story apart from the promise of a dark spooky house and 'brief strong sex', I settled down with my Orangina, waiting for the drama to unfold.

Time for a Disney show tunes medley
From the outset, Coppolla positions this film firmly as a thriller. From the opening shot which follows a little girl picking mushrooms - all alone - in the forest - humming a creepy tune - the tension begins to build. When she discovers the injured Yankee soldier John McBurney (Colin Farrell) and hobbles him back to a derelict, almost abandoned girls' boarding school, it feels like we're in for some kind of ghost story.

Perhaps surprisingly at first, old McBurney lives the bachelor's dream. Surrounded by seven women spanning generations, he seems to be able to charm every single one of them in a matter of minutes (I guess he is Irish, after all). Soon the girls are falling over each other to get a piece of him, and what was supposed to be a short stay before they turn him into the Confederates becomes weeks. Of course though, like all good dreams, things soon start to go South (figuratively this time).

"Did you bring me Pringles?" 
Whilst the film has been criticised for a lack of drama and slow pace, I didn't notice this as a major problem. The subtle and intimate tone of the film, for me, added to the tension and central mystery of the plot: who is playing who? Crucially, the women of the house have very little back story. In fact, they rarely speak candidly to each other at all, remaining either in a pack, or only splitting off to shamelessly flirt with McBurney. The rivalry between Edwina (Kirsten Dunst) and Alicia (Elle Fanning) is charged, but never openly discussed. I mean, there are a lot of knowing glances. It sometimes felt like an Agatha Christie, where all sorts of secrets live under one roof and if one person leaves the drawing room they are guilty of something.

The sense of stillness throughout adds to the haunting tone: as the film progresses, the women feel more and more like some sort of ethereal cult, headed up by the ever ghost-like Nicole Kidman as school mistress Martha Farnsworth who conducts their evening prayers by candlelight. Kidman never loses control: she holds a confident authority over the girls and every decision they make (the good, the bad and the ugly). When the group perform music for McBurney, they place themselves into a portrait like formation, gazing down at him with an intensity that would put anyone on edge. Shots are slow and steady, peering through doors, down corridors and through binoculars: there is no escape from the enemy, whoever that might be.

"Who loosened the ketchup lid?!"
Colin Farrell's McBurney is the only character to break the silent, unspoken tension - seemingly glib and agreeable, he's a much needed antidote to what otherwise could be a painfully staid atmosphere. His portrayal of the character is genuinely charming and a light relief. However, his passions soon turn him into a grade A douchebag and end up costing him an arm and leg... whether or not he is the victim of events, Coppolla makes us think about gender stereotypes and what it means to manipulate others.

A beautiful looking film with strong yet understated performances and a real sense of chilling danger, The Beguiled is definitely worth seeking out on a cloudy afternoon (especially when you can even get home in time for a cup of tea)! Just don't get too comfortable in a house of seven women who haven't seen men in months.

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