By James Luxford
In an unexpected turn, Oscar winner Sofi a Coppola directs a remake of a reasonably obscure 1971 fi lm. Set during the American Civil War, an injured Union soldier (Colin Farrell) arrives at the door of a sheltered Southern girls’ school. Taking him in and tending to his wounds, his presence disturbs the regimented routine of the school, before scandal leads to desper- ate measures.
Filmed with restraint against a gorgeous Louisiana backdrop, what unfolds is a tale of creeping unease and the danger of desire. There are a lot of chaste glances, and shocking revelations viewed through cracks in the door. There may be times where questions start to creep in about where exactly all this is taking us, but the acting bolsters any slower moments while we wait for the twists to arrive. It may not be swift, but it is entertaining. What sets this apart from most remakes, and indeed a lot of fi lms, is its choice to tell the story from a female perspective. The original saw the soldier, played by Clint Eastwood, as the hero with the females characters the unknown quantity. Making Farrell’s mysterious stranger the one not to be trusted makes for a more complex story, as each of the women’s’ motives are explored and Coppola can play with their Nineteenth Century repression. It’s maybe not as frantic a tale as the original fi lm, or the novel it is based on, but the growing sense of unease is enough to keep you pinned to your seat.
Nicole Kidman has been enjoying a career renaissance recently, having been the best part of fi lms such as Lion and TV shows such as Big Little Lies, which could see her once again in awards contention after an Oscar nomination in February. Here she is just as impressive as the head of the household, with Kirsten Dunst her curious second in command. Farrell is an excellent counterweight, enjoying the mystery of her character and putting across a man who is dangerous but charismatic in a way that makes his appeal easy to understand.
Sofi a Coppola’s best work may have come at the beginning of her career, but this is arguably her strongest effort in a decade. Taking a male-centric story and turning it on its head allows for great actors to sink their teeth into their work, bringing the best from those in front and behind the camera.