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The Beguiled

1864. A school for girls offers a place of refuge in the middle of the Civil War. An injured soldier is brought to the school, and everything starts spiraling out of control.


Sofia Coppola has said in interviews that she was interested in making a film from the female perspective. Coppola also said that THE BEGUILED wasn’t a remake of the Don Siegel film from 1971 bearing the same name, with Clint Eastwood playing a wounded Yankee soldier who is being nursed to health in a southern girls school during the Civil War. Coppola says the film is a new interpretation of the novel written by relative unknown Thoma Cullinan, but the first scene after the credits is practically identical to Don Siegel’s version: a young girl strolls along the forest and sings “Lorena”, a ballad of yearning and erotic desire, a story of a love that only blossoms in heaven. “Lorena” was written around 10 years before the war and is a war song with yearning replacing the war. Siegel’s film begins with almost identical images, but you can hear Clint Eastwood’s voice singing “The Dove” made famous by Judy Collins, a Civil War ballad, but one that’s about the horrors of war:

Come all you young fellows take warning by me
Don't go for a soldier, don't join no army
For the dove she will leave you, the raven will come
And death will come marching at the beat of a drum

THE BEGUILED is undoubtedly a remake of Siegels film, a remake that, just like almost always with Coppola, removes all traces of history and the real in order to depict a morbidly erotic dream. “The slaves ran away,” in Coppola’s version, which lays the groundwork for a snow white dream world where slave Hallie has been removed, a character who didn’t have a big role in Siegel’s version but who was able to see through the sleazy corporal from the start.

Sofia Coppola replacing the “male gaze“ with a female perspective is nothing more than a cliche. The women in Siegel’s film aren’t more broadly drawn than in Coppola’s version, if anything they have deeper backstories and seem less ethereal than the new adaptation. There are various hints about different forms of male violence that the women endured in Siegel’s version and corporal McBurney is revealed to be a liar and a seducer earlier on. The idea of women directors installing a “female” gaze shrouds the perspective of individual woman directors in a way that doesn’t happen to their male colleagues. Sofia Coppola flirts and plays with female connotations and clichés, like the pink, ornate font in the opening credits or the bright white dresses that all the women wear, reminiscent of Peter Weirs PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK.

Coppola’s film focuses on a specific type of gender relations. While Siegel’s corporal McBurney is constantly worried about the women ratting him out to the patrol and the marauding troupes, the danger disappears just as quickly as the race issues do in Coppola’s film. Headmistress Miss Martha (Nicole Kidman) decides not to turn in their captive, the schoolgirls begin to like him soon after, and all is well. McBurney isn’t interested in escaping, but rather in staying in the school. The flirts and seductions are self-motivated, McBurney doesn’t need any allies to escape the situation, he is looking for sexual pleasure. Coppola’s THE BEGUILED unfolds as a white, ahistorical sexual dream somewhere between male fantasy and female desire where violence isn’t caused by the war in the background but rather by gender relations.

Coppola’s THE BEGUILED brings a grandiose ensemble together who craft a much more subtle film than their predecessor, though Siegel’s film had an incredible cast of its own with Eastwood, Geraldine Page, and Elizabeth Hartmann. There has been a shift into a quieter, more melancholy acting style since the 70s that isn’t as influenced by “method acting” which orients itself on dramatic explosions. Nicole Kidman has become a master of this controlled style in the last few years, Kirsten Dunst and Elle Fanning grew up with it. When Colin Farrell’s corporal McBurney, who is also more restrained than Clint Eastwood, does have an outbreak, it’s anything but liberating.

Tom Dorow

Translation: Elinor Lewy


Original title: The Beguiled
USA 2017, 91 min
Genre: Drama, Western
Director: Sofia Coppola
Author: Sofia Coppola
DOP: Philippe Le Sourd
Montage: Sarah Flack
Distributor: Universal Pictures International Germany
Cast: Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Colin Farrell, Elle Fanning, Angourie Rice
FSK: 12
Release: 29.06.2017




  • OV Original version
  • OmU Original with German subtitles
  • OmeU Original with English subtitles

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