* This review contains spoilers for The Beguiled. *
The Beguiled, directed by Sofia Coppola, is a film that is full of multiple missed opportunities. There were many chances to have some genuinely compelling, stimulating content to this film. Instead we get characters who lack any depth, a plot that almost feels non-existent and just a general lack of anything of real substance. As someone who is a fan of Sofia Coppola’s previous work, I was surprised at just how empty this whole film felt. But is it all bad? Are there glimmering lights of hope within the film that make it worth seeing? Well, let’s explore those questions and more in my review. So, let’s get to it.
Unionist Soldier, Corporal John McBurney – played by Colin Farrell – is found wounded in the woods by young Amy – played by Oona Laurence. She is one of 5 girls attending an all-girls schools in Virginia during the Civil War. There, Miss Martha – played by Nicole Kidman – and Edwina – played by Kirsten Dunst – teach the young girls all the things they would need to know, to be respectable members of society. However, the arrival of Corporal McBurney catches the eye of a number of the women/girls in the school and soon jealousy and cruelty begins to fill the halls.
I went into this film expecting a tense, character driven thriller where things slowly spiralled out of control and from an audience stand point it was all to gleefully sadistic to turn away from. Well, I gave this film far too much credit going in, because it instead was the height of blandness. Every aspect of this film could be described as the bare minimum. Instead of rich characters or a plot that gripped your attention throughout, or… well anything. This film just skimmed the surface of possibility and ended up being an empty feeling experience.
Let’s look at the characters. Each person in this film is completely one-dimensional. No one ever evolves beyond their particular characteristic that makes up who they are for the whole film – except one of them, but I’ll touch upon them in a moment. I was desperately searching for anything of memorable note when it came to the characters, but I just couldn’t find a single thing. Each character lives in a single state and never evolves beyond it.
Except for Colin Farrell’s character, Colonel John McBurney. For most of the film he is like everyone else; following the one and only characteristic that he apparently has and not deviating from it. But in the final act of the film he suffers a terrible accident and has his leg removed. It is at this point that a little excitement is fired into the film. The character shifts entirely and almost becomes a new person; a violent, unpredictable person. I attributed it to being almost like, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. He was at first polite and pleasant to be around and then after the accident became almost like this horrible monster. Not only did Farrell deliver quite well on his performance at this point, but he also added a little spice into what was overall a pretty bland experience. Unfortunately the excitement doesn’t last long and the film wraps itself up pretty quickly after that, which only served to suck any last hint of life out of whatever the film had left.
Which is another of the films problems/missed opportunities. The plot is so basic, that it could be argued that it doesn’t even have one. A dashing, roguish man appears in a house full of lonely women and they all unsubtly start fawning over him. That’s pretty much the extent of what happens. There was a single point where some Confederate soldiers came to the house looking for food, but nothing ever came of that; no tension, no excitement, just continual mundanity.
The film had the chance to really play with this situation. To have some of the women in the house begin to turn on one another, to create a hostile, back-stabbing environment where the dynamics were forever changing. That would have been so much fun and so interesting to watch, but the film never even comes close to exploring such things. We get a few glaring looks, a rushed romance between Corporal McBurney and Miss Edwina and not really much else. This film just left me clambering for anything to attach onto and be interested by, and it just never happened.
I’ll say it again, this film had so many chances at some genuinely juicy, attention grabbing stuff. But it almost seemed to deliberately avoid it. The only real thing of note in this film is how beautifully shot it was. Each scene looking like an exquisite painting of the times. And I also liked that the film used all-natural lighting, which helped add a layer of authenticity to the film. I won’t deny that the film is lovely to look at, and I also must praise the time and craft that went into making it all look so realistic. It’s just a shame that all that work was for a film that had nothing of substance to it whatsoever.
And so, when the film was finishing up and I was readying to leave the cinema, I was asking myself one question in particular, “What had this film achieved?” And the answer was simply nothing. None of the characters had evolved in any way, the lives of all the women/girls in the school simply reverted back to how it was before they took in the Corporal. It was as if it had never happened. Miss Edwina had fallen for the Corporal and was ready to leave with him, but after his death seemed unphased by what had happened and simply went back to helping the girls with their stitching. It all left me quite frustrated because as I’ve said a number of times in this review, I saw hints of possible compelling content, but alas it never come to fruition.
In the end, The Beguiled was like the schlocky, romantic period drama books that your mother might read before going to bed, and while that’s fine for a wee read before going to the land of nod, it isn’t ever enough to fill the screen of a cinema and make worth watching.
I will not be recommending, The Beguiled. This is an empty film that offers nothing stimulating and wastes everything and everyone it had at its disposal. I can’t believe this came from the same director who gave us ‘Lost in Translation’. That was a film and an experience I still think about to this day. What a wonderful film that was.
So what did you think of the film and my review of it? Let me know in the comments down below. Also, feel free to follow my blog directly and my Twitter – @GavinsRamblings – that way you’ll always know when I post something new. Thank you so much for taking the time to read my review and I hope you liked it enough to return and read more.