Sofia Coppola is at it again with an acclaimed film. The writer/director has previously drawn raves for her films The Virgin Suicides, Lost in Translation, and Somewhere, and her newest feature, The Beguiled, is picking up early praise, as well. The film takes place at a Virginia girls school during the Civil War, and when the women there take in a wounded Union soldier, things quickly descend into madness. Given its historical setting, the film certainly seems like it could have actually taken place, but did it? Is The Beguiled a true story?
It's not. But if the movie seems familiar to you, that's probably because it's a remake of an earlier film of the same name that was released in 1971. That version was directed by Donald Siegel and starred his frequent collaborator Clint Eastwood in the role of the injured soldier. Both the new film and the original were based upon the 1966 novel A Painted Devil by Thomas P. Cullinan, and in all three versions of the story, the presence of a man at the sheltered school leads to conflicts and jealousy that leads to some intense encounters. But while the first two versions were told from the man's viewpoint, Coppola's version puts the women in power thanks to her direction as she was able to put her own spin on the source material.
"I just thought the premise was so interesting, because the story of power between men and women was such an interesting, loaded topic, and this premise really heightened it with this setting during the Civil War," Coppola told The Los Angeles Times' Mark Olsen about her desire to make the movie. "The women were raised to be these perfect feminine creatures there for men, and then all the men disappear."
In a separate interview with Vulture's Kyle Buchanan, the director discussed putting her own stamp on the story. "I wanted it to be this feminine, gauzy world that doesn’t look threatening at all," she said. "So that it’s a real surprise when the story shifts." She also talked about how Colin Ferrell took on the role of the man at the center of the story, knowing that he wouldn't be playing the character as the macho man in charge that Eastwood portrayed. "He knew the story, and I respect that he’s man enough to take on that role," she said. "He’s confident enough to let women be in charge and be here for that, so I thought it was cool that he totally got it and had a good sense of humor."
The Beguiled may be a 50-year-old old story, but thanks to Sofia Coppola's vision, it's being told in a very modern way for a new generation.