Saturday, July 8, 2017

The Beguiled: Revisited

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

~~ “Dove She Is A Pretty Bird” Unknown (sung by Clint Eastwood in the 1971 movie)

As soon as I heard that there was going to be a remake of “The Beguiled,” I knew I had to see it. I hadn’t even heard who was going to be in it, let alone seen a trailer, but since the original movie from 1971 is one of my all-time favorite movies, this was a must-see for me.

Unfortunately, despite over 50 screens in our area, not a single one of them was showing the movie! What the hell?? But there is a happy ending. We just happened to have a week in Kansas City planned, so last night was our chance to see it. We even got to see it at a classic theater in the Westport area, the Tivoli!

When a favorite movie is remade, dangers abound. Some of the portrayals of characters are so iconic that you can’t imagine anyone else in the role. (This is why I have never seen the remake of “Psycho.” My favorite movie EVER. Vince Effin’ Vaughn as Norman Bates? After Anthony Perkins? Are you KIDDING ME?? ARGH! Oddly enough, I loved Freddie Highmore’s portrayal of Norman in the TV series “Bates Motel,” but I’ve written about that before.) Sometimes something is just so right the first time that you don’t see why a remake is necessary. (For me, that would be the remake of “Carrie.” Brian De Palma’s version was perfect.)

So I was trepidatious about the remake of “The Beguiled.” I loved it from the first time I saw it on late-night TV. I was probably in junior high, and here was a young, absolutely gorgeous Clint Eastwood as a wounded Union soldier taken in by a Southern girls’ school. It’s been quite some time since the ladies of the school have enjoyed male company (said in my best Southern drawl), so you can imagine how things go. One of the teachers falls in love with him; the headmistress of the school is reminded of her brother and their relationship which was a little more than brother and sister, if you get my drift; one of the older students wants merely to bed him and learn about a man’s body; and then young, sweet Amy, the girl who finds him in the woods, sees him as a rather romantic figure, someone she has a bit of a crush on...but she isn’t quite old enough yet to understand why she loves “Mr. McB.”

Yowza! What’s not to love? Southern Gothic at its absolute best. It is dark and twisted and sexy and occasionally funny and so much fun.

I was happy when I saw the trailer for the remake. It looked like they had the general atmosphere right. When it finally came out, I started hearing great things about it, that Sofia Coppola had directed it perfectly. So I started feeling a little less trepidatious. Colin Farrell as Corporal John McBurney (Clint Eastwood’s role)? I can work with that. Nicole Kidman as Miss Martha Farnsworth, the headmistress? Not a huge fan of Nicole, but okay. Kirsten Dunst as the young teacher Edwina? Yes! I like Kirsten Dunst. Elle Fanning as the nubile student? (Carol in the original, Alicia in the remake.) Okay, I’m game.

The new cast did an absolutely fantastic job. Kidman was wonderful, playing Miss Martha with a mixture of strength and desire and determination. There’s a great scene where she gives McBurney a sponge bath and gets all het up and sweaty. The simmering sexuality of this handsome man in a girls' school is a perfectly delicious tension. Colin Farrell was very good, with the extra added bonus of an Irish accent. His McBurney came over from Dublin and went right into the Union army. But I have to say that Clint Eastwood is still THE John McBurney for me. Eastwood wins this battle.

*Mild spoilers ahead*

They make a few minor changes, like leaving out Miss Martha’s incestuous relationship with her brother. That’s a shame, because it added a layer of gothic creepiness to the story. I also missed the presence of Hallie, the slave in the original. I think that was an important part of the story, to show why the war was being fought. But other than that, it adhered fairly closely to the original.

The true star for me was the plantation house that served as the school as well as the land itself. I spent a few summers when I was in college in Georgia when my folks had a place there. Coppola captures perfectly the sluggish heat of a Southern summer. The humidity, the angle of the sun through the trees, the buzzing of the cicadas. There are gorgeous shots of pathways turned into tunnels by overhanging trees dripping with Spanish moss. The girls work in the garden, Alicia (AKA Carol) leaning lazily on her hoe, just feeling too damned hot to work anymore and she’s not cut out for this kind of work, anyway. The flickering candlelight in the columned house and the knock on the door of passing troops. Will it be friend or foe? Amy wandering barefoot in the woods, picking mushrooms and finding wounded Yanks. (I never found a Yank in the woods in Georgia...we were the Yanks!)

It has to be very difficult to capture a particular ambiance on screen. Coppola managed to do it so perfectly that I could almost feel the heat and humidity of my long-ago Georgia summers.

I absolutely loved this movie. I still love the original and will happily watch both many times in the coming years.

Thank you, Sofia Coppola, for not ruining one of “my” movies!


  1. ...I have heard that she is far better behind the camera than she was in front of it... I will have to look to see if it is in the Metro Omaha area..! I think that Renee would enjoy it..!

  2. I'd have a preconceived bias just knowing Eastwood was the original McBurney. Had a thing for him when I was young, but never saw The Beguiled.
    As Mark mentioned above, long ago, I'd heard she wasn't the greatest actress. Does this film have a Coppola(as in Dad's) feel? Not that it need be in order to be good.

    1. The original movie is what gave ME a thing for Clint Eastwood! haha

      Hmmm...I wouldn't say that this has a Coppola feel to it, except for the great cinematography. She seems to have found her own path.

  3. It was great, the filming was better for the remake, setting the scene, but the characters of the original are hard to beat.


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