"Having a woman at the helm cements the feminist chops of The Beguiled; however, people of color are absent from this eerie fable."
Title: The Beguiled (2017)
Director: Sofia Coppola 👩🏼🇺🇸
Writers: Original novel by Thomas Cullinan 👨🏼🇺🇸 and screenplay by Sofia Coppola 👩🏼🇺🇸, Albert Maltz 👨🏼🇺🇸, and Irene Kamp 👩🏼🇺🇸
Reviewed by Li 👩🏻🇺🇸
The Beguiled is a mercurial thriller that breathes tension from beginning to end. Adapted from a 1966 novel titled A Painted Devil, Coppola’s rendition transports the sordid tale from the page and into a haunted, Southern gothic atmosphere, where multitudes are conveyed with downcast eyes or the tilt of the head.
The writing is solid and the acting is superb. I’m simply not sure if The Beguiled will transcend Coppola’s other works, such as the era-defining Lost in Translation, a work I personally disliked for its unapologetic Other-ing of Japanese culture to tell a story of upper class white malaise, but a film that unequivocally resonated and lives on in film lexicon. I’m not sure The Beguiled holds that same level of poignancy that will make me remember it, years from now.
Does it pass the Bechdel Test? YES
The Beguiled may very well be the only film I’ve ever seen where men don’t pass the “Bechdel Test”. Namely, no two men ever exchange words with each other onscreen. Still, this anomaly is lifted straight from its source material: a Union soldier, Corporal McBurney (Colin Farrell), lands in a Southern boarding house filled with women and girls during the height of the Civil War. He is the only male character in this story.
Beyond the numbers of a female-dominated cast, Coppola’s film transcends the novel’s male voice with a healthy infusion of female perspective. As James Mottram writes for Independent.co.uk:
The Beguiled has already been heralded as a feminist interpretation of the story—far removed from the macho version starring Clint Eastwood, made by Don Siegel in 1971. “I would never think of re-making a film, but when I saw the film, it really stayed in my mind,” says Coppola. “I thought, ‘I’d love to see that story told from the point of view of the women, and what it must’ve been like for them and being cut off during war-time.’”
Thus we see in Coppola’s rendition a fable of oppressed women, made to fight and scrape their way into some semblance of control over their own lives.
For a film that rotates just eight characters, with no crowd shots at any point, a homogenous white cast could feel natural for its setting of an all girls boarding house in the Confederate South. Unfortunately, this would overlook the whitewashing that went into Coppola's The Beguiled which erases two people of color from the original novel: the crucial character of Edwina, who is biracial, and Hattie, a black female slave. In the 2017 film, Edwina is played by the blonde-haired, blue-eyed Kirsten Dunst, and Hattie is deleted altogether.
Mediaversity Grade: C+ 3.42/5
The Beguiled provides a wonderful shift in perspective from its male-driven source material, A Painted Devil. Having a woman at the helm has certainly has helped its feminist chops; however, its blatant whitewashing is hard to overlook.
Coppola’s latest is worth a watch if you love an eerie, morbid fairy tale. But if you’re looking for a non-white slant, you’re better off giving Get Out another re-watch.
The Beguiled is available on streaming—iTunes or Amazon.