The Beguiled ’71 vs The Beguiled ’17

I recommend reading Keith’s thoughts about the 2017 remake found here:

REVIEW: “The Beguiled”

The 1971 Version

Three years into the Civil War, handsome Union soldier John McBurney (Clint Eastwood) is discovered and brought to Miss Martha Farnsworth Seminary for Young Ladies. At first, he is delighted to be surrounded by the cloistered beauty of varying ages. An African American slave, Hallie,  (blues singer Mae Mercer) who remains on the estate and assists headmistress Martha (Geraldine Page, Hondo, Sweet Bird of Youth), try to keep order among the girls who are drawn to their new guest. The girls learn French, garden, knit and embroider, and take the post to look out for Union soldiers while getting updates from Southern soldiers as they pass by the imposing wrought-iron gate that keeps the girls in like a prison.

The 1971 version was produced and directed Don Siegel (Eastwood and he worked together in five films) was based on the novel A Painted Devil by Thomas P. Cullinan. The 1971 version focused on sexual taboos and sexual repression created by isolation of the war. The male is the victim and Eastwood falls into the den of the black widow and her spiders. The theme of castration is outwardly expressed.

The 2017 Version 

In this version, headmistress Martha is played by the wispy, haunted, out-of-breath Nicole Kidman.  Colin Firth is Corporal John McBurney. Kirsten Dunst is the plump, aging spinster who wants to escape her confining post as the teacher at the school and hopes John will save her.

The weakness of one version was the strength of the other so that trying to decide which was better was difficult. Sofia Coppola‘s outstanding effort was her directorship. Applauds all around for capturing the humid, suffocating setting of trees and brush and cicadas and for creating an authentic historical climate of 1863 even though she filmed it at Lousiana’s Madewood Plantation while the location was said to be in Virginia.  Fine, I’ll give that to her because the location made for an ideal stage. Sofia does well with costumes in her films and uses them to accentuate the personalities of her characters. In this case, her female cast wears white and it is appropriate as boarding school garb and innocence even though they are all a bit too starched and brand new for a timeworn, ragged estate three years into the war. The ending shot was outstanding. It was a daguerreotype, the outcome frozen and ghostly. White seemed to be a motif Coppola played with throughout the 90 minutes.

The 2017 film felt like a lot of short stories I’ve read over the years and loved. The ghost stories of George Eliot, Daphne du Maurier, Shirley Jackson, and Virginia Woolf come to mind. Sin is insinuated rather than fleshed out and laid on the table. (sorry) You’d get more of that from the 1971 version. While I appreciated the camera angles from Eastwood’s perspective and the manual pull in and out of the lens from Dan Spiegel, the occasional harpsichord felt like you were in a Vincent Price film. Not that that’s bad, just dated. However, the acting was much better in the 1971 version especially the “hussy” Carol played by Jo Ann Harris.

The biggest contrast between both versions was the matchup between Miss Martha the headmistress and Corporal McBurney. The 1971 version is better because of Geraldine Page. The motivating events propelled her performance to a higher, memorable plateau while validating the decisions of the others. I felt Sofia’s screenplay softened and blurred the characters. Since this is a film about relationships, Coppola’s characters paled by comparison. If you took Sophia’s directing and inserted the 1971 cast into her Southern setting, you’d have an outstanding film. As it is, I’d rate the 2017 version as a 3.5 and the 1971 version a 4. 

42 Comments on “The Beguiled ’71 vs The Beguiled ’17

  1. I have posted about the original film, and I am a fan of Coppola’s so I want to see it as well…however, there seems to be a different POV on how to tell the story, and I’m interested to see which one plays better for me…by the way, “The Beguiled” was one of THREE Clint Eastwood films in 1971 – here is a look a the other two! –

    • Thanks for your contribution, John! I enjoyed watching the classic version of The Beguiled. I had never heard of it before. A true delight.

  2. Hello Cindy! Firstly let me say BIG THANKS for your generous support on Hearts Want.

    Secondly, I miss reading your posts!! This is an excellent read on a film I’ve been curious about. I missed the screening of Beguiled because I had been so swamped w/ my film but I can’t wait to check it out. I might see the ’71 version now since you rate it so high. Interestingly, from certain angles my lead actor kinda has resembles young Clint Eastwood and they’re both tall w/ piercing eyes 😉

    • Oh, it’s good. I bet you will love Sofia’s version. There is a lot of good things about it. I just preferred the acting in the original version.
      Congrats to your project. I wish you well!

  3. Great comparison. For me, I think Coppola’s version is superior not just due to the visuals and claustrophobic presentation but also for doing more with the ensemble. Especially with the four young girls in the film as I felt they were given more to do than in Siegel’s version which was a bit creepier. Still, both films do make a great double feature.

    • Welcome! I am glad to hear you’ve seen both versions. For the acting in 2017, I liked the two younger girls (the black haired, chubby one who suggests the mushrooms and the snobby anti-rebel musician). For 1971, I loved Pamelyn Ferdin as Amy. There was more interplay with her animals and the turtle set up with motivational response was more believable for me. Also, in the 1971 version I thought because Geraldine was more aggressive and twisted with her past love affair, it gave her more power to control the others, especially Edwina. I thought Dunst gave a lackluster performance. BUT, I did like the 2017 version for a lot of reasons. The setting and direction was impressive.

  4. I haven’t seen the new version, and I am not 100% sure that I want to. I am drawn by the casting of Dunst and Kidman though, two of my favourite modern actresses. However, I think Farrell is hugely overrated as an actor, and I was disappointed in the choice of him as male lead.I read Keith’s review, and as he went into the film never having seen the original, I wonder what he would now make of it?
    Of course a 1971 film is going to feel dated, that’s unavoidable. However, that original was indeed very creepy in feel, playing more like a horror film, than a period drama. And Geraldine Page was an inspired choice for her role, no doubt. I am reminded of the comparison between ‘The Return of Martin Guerre’ (1982), and the American remake ‘Sommersby’ (1993). There is just no point. Really, no point at all. Do something original. Please.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    • Hi Pete, thanks for your contribution. The 71 was a Southern Gothic tale — always on the creepy side. Live the Victorians, I enjoy what happens when you put a group of males and females together in close quarters and watch the frustration bubble. The 71 version made me cringe when Eastwood kisses the 12 year old thus instigating the crush that would lead to his demise. I also marveled/cringed with the “Lolitaesque” interpretation by Jo Ann Harris. She was very convincing as the hungry, petty girl. I think it’s ironic that Kidman and Dunst are your favorites — I think they are overrated, while I admire the work of Colin Farrell very much. Ha! I don’t know if you will rent it down the road or not, but since you are a fan of the US Civil War, you might be tempted. I remember ‘Sommersby’ and liked it but did not see the original. I think that’s the rationale for replicating a film. Gotta sell it to the newest generation with the newest technology. There are very few young moviegoers of today who would appreciate the 1971 version because it is dated. But the story is a good one and put in a newer shell, it is appreciated today.

      • I think the ‘Lolita’ angle was probably necessary, to justify the retribution he received. But I have never read the book, so can’t be sure.
        I don’t know if you have ever watched any of the TV series of ‘Fargo’? In the second series, Kirsten Dunst was fabulous! I only like her as she got older, not for her ‘teen’ stuff. Kidman has made some poor film choices for sure, but when she is good, she can be very good.
        I have yet to see Farrell in any film where he wasn’t playing Colin Farrell, but I am open to recommendations. 🙂
        No doubt I will cave in, and watch Sofia’s version eventually..x

        • That charisma or star power is a factor. I suppose I wouldn’t say Colin has a breadth or depth as an actor. But what he gives is passion and charisma. I can’t take my eyes off of him. And the accent makes me melt. I was moved by his performance in ‘In Bruges’ and ‘The Lobster’ and thought he was fine in ‘Minority Report’, ‘Saving Mr. Banks’.

          • OK, you like his accent, and fancy him too. 🙂 Enough said! 🙂 If you lived in London, (or Dublin) you would be surrounded by Farrell lookalikes and soundalikes.
            I feel the same about Ann-Margaret, so I am with you there She can’t really act, but she looks so good, I just don’t care. x

  5. A fascinating post Cindy. I found the 71 film very unusual and pretty startling in the best possible way. I hope to catch Coppola’s take as I admire her style. I’ve heard many say her version is the more subtle one.

    • Hi Vinnieh. I’m glad you saw the 71 version. I think you will like the new one, too. I liked the startling version better. The scenes in the original allowed for the justification of their actions. for instance, I felt how desperate Edwina was to leave the school and her hopes that McB would save her from her life. I didn’t get that sense of desperation from Dunst. I am tired of Nicole Kidman, too. She reminded me too much of other characters she’s played in similar situations–The Others, Cold Mountain, The Hours–it’s her historical lady persona. It worked once or twice, but I’m tired of it. I like her when she plays the unexpected.

  6. I haven’t seen the original, but after reading your thoughts, I feel like I would have preferred it. I wasn’t a huge fan of Coppola’s movie…maybe the bit you mentioned about the characters feeling blurred had something to do with it. It was just lacking something that I couldn’t put my finger on, you know?

    • Welcome, Courtney. I thought a lot about why the film which had a lot going for it left me feeling flat. In the original, the jealousy and manipulations were played out more in different scenes. The girl Amy was a keeper of broken animals and birds and you saw that more in the 71 version. Her relationship with McB was stressed more. It’s important because she feels betrayed when McB turns to older girls. Then, in a drunken rage he kills her turtle, well, she was mad enough to carry out the request of gathering poisonous mushrooms. You just believed that she’d do it. Another flaw was the chemistry between McB and Edwina. It just seemed unlikely that in Coppola’s version, Edwina would bar the door and have sex with him right after he had rampaged through the house and scared everyone. The 71 version played on the jealousy between Edwina and Martha more. I just didn’t feel the desperation from Dunst to get out of there like Hartman’s portrayal of Edwina. Mostly, Martha by Kidman was too soft and angelic. Consequently, they all felt soft-boiled and mushy instead of distinctive personalities. With the same hair styles and white dresses, they were a ghostly mass instead of complex characters.
      I sure appreciate you stopping by!

  7. Hmmmm … never saw the original. Wasn’t drawn to it. But I would guess that poster misrepresents the flavor of the movie.

  8. I loved reading this Cindy and you have me even more anxious to see the 71 version. I’m really intrigued by the differences of the two films. As for Coppola’s, her movie has still stuck with me. I find myself thinking on different scenes and ideas she may have had behind them. I’m anxious to give it another look.

  9. I’ve heard the perspective and slant is different in Sophia’s remake. Blogger Marilyn Ferdinand is quite taken with it. Siegell/Eastwood’s THE BEGUILED took a long time in gathering fans, especially for a big star to try a change-up like this to his filmography. Spoke volumes. Fine look at this, Cindy. 🙂

    • Coppola’s version is only 90 minutes long. All she had to do was include a few more scenes to allow Kidman, Dunst, Fanning, and Oona Laurence (Amy) show off their talent, play out the jealousies. I felt Sofia stifled the production with her setting (good) but she stifled the actresses in the process.

  10. Having now seen both, it is interesting to compare and contrast them. The 71 version had a more hallucinatory atmosphere that become very creepy. The Coppola take is a lot more nuanced and ambiguous in execution. They are both fine films, I honestly can’t choose between them as they both had amazing parts.

    • Welcome, Mark. I’d be interested in what you think of Coppola’s film. Her fans love it. My biggest criticism would be the wish for Sofia to create a few more scenes that establish the motivation for retribution (Anna), for a solution (Martha), and for desperation to leave. (Edwina) Otherwise, she does best with the setting, the sounds of nature, and that awesome final shot.

  11. Better late than never: this is an interesting exchange of views. For me, Cindy has summed it up nicely: “Sofia stifled the production with her setting (good) but she stifled the actresses in the process”. I keep returning to the basics of film storytelling: it balances on narrative, cinematography and emotion. The Beguiled has brilliant cinematography and a high potential narrative. It is the blandness of its emotional impact that brings it down. Based on comments here, I’ll have to check out the ’71 version.

    • Hi Richard–better late than never, indeed! Yes, I like your explanation and I see we share the same thoughts about the 2017 version’s lack of emotional impact.

  12. Interesting match-up Cindy. I really enjoyed Eastwood’s version but it’s been ages since I’ve seen it. I’m quite drawn to the new one as well.

    • Hello, Mark. I would be curious how you would assess Copolla’s direction and script. The only issue I had was the restraint. It is a stellar cast and I felt they were underworked.

      • Sorry for my absence of late, I’ve really not been doing the rounds like I want to.

        As for Coppola, I find her very much hit and miss. If I’m honest, mostly miss.

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