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A Film Diary

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Watched: 6 October

I haven’t seen Don Siegel’s 1971 film, so I’m unable to compare that adaptation of Thomas Cullinan’s novel A Painted Devil with this one by Sofia Coppola, but the newer film certainly has its strengths, such as a fine sense of place. It’s set in and around a Virginian girls’ school during the American Civil War, and you can almost feel the oppressive, muggy air and the heat emanating from the swampland surrounding the establishment in every scene. Coppola also establishes her characters well, and quickly, such as three of the women studying in and running the school (played by Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst and Elle Fanning, none of whom put a foot wrong), as well as the wounded Union Army soldier that they discover and take in (a terrifically oily Colin Farrell). The film looks and sounds beautiful, as you would expect from Coppola, and watching the three main women – who have different roles within the school, as defined by their ages, but who all end up desiring the same thing – as their closed-off, carefully-maintained environment is turned upside-down by this sudden male presence is compelling, particularly during the second half. I’m not quite sure why I didn’t fall for The Beguiled in the same way that I’ve fallen for other works by this excellent director, and I do find it odd that Coppola has seemingly swept issues of slavery under the rug when these were apparently stronger concerns within the novel and Siegel’s film, but I’d rather be positive, and her take on the story contains all of the woozy, sensual charm we have come to expect from her films and I suspect I will think even more of it on a second viewing. Certainly the acting alone warrants a second look. (***½)

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