Nicole Kidman The Beguiled
Cast: Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning, Colin Farrell
Director: Sofia Coppola
Genre: Drama, Western
Synopsis: The Beguiled is an atmospheric thriller from acclaimed writer/director Sofia Coppola.
The story unfolds during the Civil War, at a Southern girls' boarding school. Its sheltered young women take in an injured enemy soldier. As they provide refuge and tend to his wounds, the house is taken over with sexual tension and dangerous rivalries, and taboos are broken in an unexpected turn of events.
Release Date: 13th of July, 2017
About The Production
Having joined characters at their turning points in the 18th, 20th and 21st centuries, director Sofia Coppola now journeys to the 19th century with The Beguiled, for which she wrote the screenplay adaptation from the novel of the same name by Thomas Cullinan.
Taking the trip with the Academy Award-winning filmmaker are collaborators new and returning both behind and in front of the camera. Sofia Coppola is reunited with two of her favorite leading ladies, Kirsten Dunst and Elle Fanning, and directs for the first time Golden Globe Award winner Colin Farrell and Academy Award winner Nicole Kidman. These screen veterans are backed up by an ensemble of teenage actresses who are making their marks in the industry.
The filmmaker's team of artisans includes production designer Anne Ross, film editor Sarah Flack, and costume designer Stacey Battat, each of whom has made several movies with her; and Academy Award-nominated cinematographer Philippe Le Sourd, lensing his first feature with Coppola.
Laced with elements of a taut psychological thriller, the tale unfolds in 1864 – three years into the Civil War – and is tightly concentrated in and around a Southern girls' boarding school in Virginia where a wounded Union soldier takes refuge.
Intrigued by the story of the 1971 film The Beguiled, directed by Don Siegel and starring Clint Eastwood, Geraldine Page, Elizabeth Hartman, and Jo Ann Harris, Coppola wanted to explore the theme of women isolated during the Civil War. In writing the screenplay adaptation, she went back to the book to tell the story from the female characters' perspective for her film.
While there is tension – both sexual and otherwise – throughout the story, Colin Farrell gravitated to what he deems an 'extraordinary" script because 'it looks at how whatever innocence has been maintained in a time of war can be lost. It also explores how the more animalistic aspects of human behaviour can be provoked – and pervade – even when you're not on the front lines.
'The violence of the human heart is a timeless theme, no matter what period a story takes place in."
Kirsten Dunst remarks, 'The story is Southern Gothic, with things bubbling under until they get to a boiling point and then an explosion happens. It's not horror, but it feels like there is horror in it, with intensity and destruction – all made more compelling because this is happening among women.
'When Sofia Coppola told me about the idea a couple of years ago, my impression was that she was drawn to the subject matter of so many women together alone."
Nicole Kidman comments, 'I thought it was exciting to work with a group of women and then put Colin Farrell in the equation.
'I was so happy to support Sofia Coppola as a female director, and I always thought that she made such atmospheric movies in such a signature style. That was the main thing which drew me to working with her."
Elle Fanning adds, 'Besides working with Sofia Coppola again, this was a reason for me to be part of The Beguiled: the women hold the power in this story – even though it's set during the Civil War."
The women's wartime lives at the school are, as the story begins, heavily ritualized. Elle Fanning notes, 'They get up, they work in the garden at a certain time. There's prayer, playing music, French lessons, dinner and bedtime. Until, everything gets shaken up; they take in the wounded soldier, and selfishness sets in."
Ross elaborates, 'It's rare that you see a story about women during wartime, and about how they interact with each other; in The Beguiled, Sofia Coppola is exploring both their camaraderie and their isolation."
Given the confines of the society the women have grown up – or are still growing up – in, research had to be part of the pre-production phase. Ross says, 'We had to at least know what was historically accurate before making concessions towards telling a fictionalized story.
'But Sofia Coppola and I started out by doing what we do on every movie: share pictures, collect things that inspire us, make mood boards, and map out the scope of the film." Inspirations ranged from the Australian drama Picnic at Hanging Rock to the portraiture of painter John Singer Sargent.
Le Sourd began preparing for The Beguiled 'a full year before we began shooting. What struck me in the research, including looking at daguerreotypes, was how little strong color came through during the Civil War.
'Sofia Coppola and [producer] Youree Henley made the decision to shoot on film, which I appreciated, and we then opted for an older film aspect ratio of 1:66/1 so as to see more of the body language."
The cinematographer worked closely with Battat and Ross on the movie's palette, and on the practical implementations of same. As the story is set well over a decade before electrical lighting came into use, daylight was made use of for scene after scene. The natural light was supplemented by candles, which would have been kept on hand at – and also handmade at – the boarding school; and, on occasion, by modern studio lights.
Ross notes, 'When McBurney [portrayed by Colin Farrell] first shows up, the world he's coming into is softer, with more pastels. As he's with the women longer things become darker, reflecting the mood of the film."
'I loved how contained the drama was, and there's a bit of melodrama as well," says Farrell, who had long wanted to make a movie with Sofia Coppola.
As it happens, when the filmmaker approached the actor with The Beguiled, he had only just completed production on another movie with Nicole Kidman. He quips, 'Nicole and I are now each 50 percent of a small film repertory company.
'Nicol Kidman is a joy to work with. When she comes on the set, everyone gets a little bit better, from the actors to the electricians!"
'Everyone stands up straighter," adds Elle Fanning. 'Especially when Nicole Kidman was being Miss Martha."
With the cast in place to portray women of the South, a wider net was cast for research. Cursive writing lessons, utilizing a pen that had to be dipped in ink, were given. Demonstrations were held on how to apply and wrap a tourniquet. Rehearsals prior to shooting were conducted with the cast fully costumed in period garb.
Elle Fanning reveals, 'I'm from Georgia, so I'm connected to the values that these characters have been raised with. I'm very familiar with ladylike behavior.
'But during rehearsals we did have to see an etiquette coach, and a dance teacher who taught us dances of the time."
Colin Farrell notes, 'The interactions between the man and these women are all about social etiquette – until somebody steps out of their acceptable box. Then it's no longer an emotionally curtailed environment. I didn't see my character as having much etiquette, but Sofia asked me to meet with the etiquette coach as well, so I did."
Several of the actresses were obliged to practice their accents, designated to specific states, for an hour daily – while marveling at how Nicole Kidman would retain Miss Martha's voice. Nicole Kidman offers, 'I did a very particular Southern accent, and I tried to keep that before and after takes at times."
Oona Laurence, Angourie Rice, Emma Howard, and Addison Riecke were referred to as 'the minors" because all four actresses – although already accomplished – were and are under 18 years of age. Friendship among the quartet was bolstered by their having school sessions together during production as well as carpooling to and from the daily shooting locations.
Furthering connections among them and forging a bridge between research and imagination, Sofia Coppola asked the younger actresses to write in journals daily, in-character, reflecting on their past – the families that they were sent away from – as well as their present, at the school. The filmmaker also gave the quartet materials detailing what young women of their age would have experienced during the Civil War.
Kirsten Dunst elaborates, 'Miss Martha is not only head of the school, she is also head of what has become a household. My character, Edwina, is like a minder for the girls. But with the War having gone on for so long, we've also become like mothers to them.
'Having strong actresses in every role makes the whole story more meaningful, and the relationships that more complicated, bringing life to every scene."
Colin Farrell marvels, 'I was surrounded by extraordinary talented actresses. Since for a lot of the story my character is lying down, I had the best seat in the house – watching them work!"
The role of McBurney intrigued the actor with every emotional and/or physical twist and turn. Colin Farrell says, 'He's somewhat narcissistic, yet he's a good judge of people in that he reads what they need. He senses what they may find disdainful and stays away from that, going instead to their soft spot – whether it's giving a kind word or being more reserved.
'Probably the only one he's sincere with is Oona's character, Amy. She is generous to him right away, but even this innocence is to be lost."
Kirsten Dunst muses, 'There is death in the story, but it's also about how a person dies inside. I tried to give Edwina a big inner life, fill emotionally. Hers was a very different sensibility for me to play, and the opposite of who I am."
Elle Fanning notes, 'For my character, Alicia, it's an awakening to see a man up close. She's at an age where she's gotten a little bored, feels stuck. When she starts to wear her hair down and show her corset a little bit – that's a big no-no. But she doesn't anticipate how this flirtatiousness is going to have consequences.
'I liked playing someone going through that, and from this time period – a setting which I'd never been part of before."
These two stars of previous Coppola movies became fast friends. Kirsten Dunst reveals, 'Elle Fanning and I literally finish each other's sentences. I found a soul mate."
Elle Fanning says, 'I love Kirsten Dunst. Some of the scenes were hard for us – because we couldn't look at each other or we would start laughing!"
The production took Louisiana as its base, which delighted Riecke, who was born and raised in the state – although she would be portraying her character Marie with a Mississippi accent.
Sofia Coppola's preference, as on her previous films, was to shoot at actual locations. So it was that, situated on-screen as the girls' school the Farnsworth Seminary, is Madewood Plantation House, which audiences may recognise from its showcase in Beyoncé's 'Sorry" music video as part of her Lemonade.
A two-hour drive outside of New Orleans, Madewood was designed and built in the mid-19th century, although the Civil War would delay its completion. As in The Beguiled, the property was largely bypassed by the conflict itself. It is also well-situated against natural disasters; owner and proprietor Keith Marshall reports that 'the walls are 24 inches of solid brick.
'It is one of the most perfect classical Greek revival mansions in America." In addition to film and television productions, Madewood has hosted designers' collections presentations and music festivals – and hosts guests as a bed-and-breakfast establishment. It is a National Historic Landmark mansion.
Key moments in the movie were filmed in and around Madewood, including the kitchen and dining-room sequences that convened all eight performers; and the shed scenes. The historic façade remained untouched, although Ross' unit did have to do some planting and decorating out front to indicate some neglect occasioned by the War grinding on and the school's population having been reduced.
Even so, Ross reports that the production was obliged 'to find another house where we could work more inside and change décor and furniture, and do some minor painting, among other logistical things – "
'" while being sure not to damage anything," assures Elle Fanning. 'We all had to be very careful and respectful. The staircase was epic!" The privately owned home is located in New Orleans, and its interiors became the school's parlor, music room, and bedrooms, among other scripted locations.
While the school mansion consists of the two locales – Madewood and the New Orleans residence – the production also did limited shooting at and around Evergreen Plantation and New Orleans' City Park. The latter provided just the right setting for the opening sequence where McBurney is first discovered by Amy, with Coppola and Le Sourd finding inspiration in the forest scenes of the classic Rashomon.
For interiors at both main locales, Ross' unit had to populate the Farnsworth Seminary with everything from Bibles to candelabras to musical instruments. For the dining scenes, the props department sourced vintage silverware – which it then tarnished, given that the school's reduced head count and the wartime depletions have left no time for unessential tasks such as polishing the silver.
The gun in the house, kept by Miss Martha for protection, is a Whitneyville Dragoon, a .44–caliber revolver manufactured years prior to the Civil War and therefore appropriately contextualized as being previously owned by Miss Martha's father. The overall mandate for the props department was 'early 19th century," since objects would have been retained and handed down. Books from the period were represented by reprint versions so as not to look their advanced actual age.
If the cast could step into history when surrounded by the props and locations, Battat's department made it feel even more immediate for them with handmade costumes. Getting into the clothing helped everyone get into character. 'Corsets every single day," confides Fanning. 'Our waists had to be measured each day because the skirts were made to fit. There were so many tiny buttons; you could not get dressed alone, and you could not get undressed alone…
'Wearing the corsets made you walk and hold yourself a different way. Stacey did a great job with all the soft and clingy skirts – they were washed to be really faded, since our characters would have had only so many outfits left in the house by that time." Dresses were rendered even more pale by being left out in the noonday sun.
Nicole Kidman marvels, 'I was fascinated by how Sofia put together the look of The Beguiled; she had such strong ideas for how it should look, including the costumes and sets – and she had to work within the parameters of the low budget."
Production spanned only 26 days, with filming getting underway in late October 2016. Le Sourd operated his own camera, often with Sofia Coppola close at hand so she could speak directly with the actors as they did multiple takes of a scene. As a result, 'we would make changes to a scene together," notes the cinematographer.
Elle Fanning remembers, 'We had a party when the 100th roll of film was hit. It's been a while since I worked on a movie that was shot on film."
'With our cinematographer Philly and Sofia working in tandem, I would say that The Beguiled is the most aesthetically rich film that I've been a part of," remarks Farrell. 'The New World is pretty extraordinary visually but that is pure nature. The Beguiled is a lot more interiors and design."
Le Sourd points out that 'whether shooting interiors or exteriors, we would focus on the characters and not the backgrounds."
Colin Farrell adds, 'There is an immense lack of tension on a Sofia Coppola set. It is a peaceful and even playful environment."
Nicole Kidman says, 'Sofia Coppola is so softly spoken and sweet and lovely to be around. Everyone has such respect for her."
Kirsten Dunst offers, 'In moviemaking, there are no film sets like Sofia Coppola's. She cultivates good energy so her vision comes to life; she does not second-guess herself, and she truly trusts her actors."
Elle Fanning reflects, 'Sofia is very much in charge – she knows the shot she wants to get for a scene – but the set feels like a safe place where you can come up with and try things."
Release Date: 13th of July, 2017