THE BEGUILED — Review by Susan Wloszczyna
The original 1971 “The Beguiled” pitted Clint Eastwood’s wounded Union solider Corp. John McBurney against the residents of a Southern girls’ school during the Civil War who treat him like a prisoner while fantasizing how he could be the man of their dreams. This handsome and wily manipulator seems to know his effect on the woman folk from the opening scene as he steals a kiss from the 12-year-old student who has found him. As directed by Don Siegel, the jealousies and rivalries that develop are deliberately stirred up by Eastwood’s male interloper who acts like a rooster in a hen house who can’t fly away. This is clearly a war of the sexes, and despite igniting an ongoing catfight atmosphere, his McBurney fails to see he is outnumbered nine to one, including a head mistress, a teacher, a slave and six students. Continue reading…
But in writer-director Sofia Coppola’s hands, Colin Farrell’s fallen warrior mostly does what he can to ingratiate himself with the female inhabitants in order to fully heal and then take his leave despite being a mercenary Rebel soldier. Of course, he curries their favor by fulfilling whatever male role they need him to assume. Father figure, lover, gentleman suitor, intellectual equal, handy man, friend – he is their male fantasy in the flesh at a time when most men were otherwise engaged. But from the start, he is clearly underestimating the power of the sisterhood shared by these members of the opposite sex. Unlike the original “Beguiled,” which was more erotic, pulpy and vengeful, Coppola presents an intoxicating portrait of feminine fortitude in the face of hard times where the women find a reason to once again don their Sunday best for their guest while vying to catch his attention. With all the candlelight, music, fine dining and beautiful gowns, it’s as if they are all on a group date with this man in the midst. But when Farrell’s McBurney attempts to juggle too many wish fulfillments at once, he loses their trust and emboldens their need to re-affirm their commitment to one another.
Both films are worthy. The Siegel version is more of a Southern gothic horror story, while Coppola twists the details to better present a strong and purposeful female point of view. Hers is a twisted fairy tale where the women save themselves and serve their Big Bad Wolf with the fate he deserves so that they can survive.