When I heard this film was being done, my first thought was, “A remake of the 70s Clint Eastwood flick? Why?” But fortunately it’s not a remake. Sophia Coppola has turned the previously digested source material into her own sensually atmospheric historical drama. Starring a very talented bunch, including Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning, and Colin Farrell, it’s a psychological tableaux set in the waning days of the Civil War at an isolated girls’ school in Virginia. When a wounded Union soldier (Farrell) is brought into their midst, their routine life is disrupted, they each begin to vie for his attention, and you just know it can’t end well.
It begins with one of the younger girls out picking mushrooms in the forest. She finds the wounded deserter Cpl. John McBurney and takes him back to the school. At first, they are wary of him, being a Yankee and all. But Christian charity wins out, and they take him in and nurse him back to health. The plan is to hand him over to their army once he’s healed, but one thing leads to another and his convalescence is extended. Slowly the girls and the women fall prey to his charm, particularly Edwina (Dunst) and Alicia (Fanning), and ultimately jealousies just under the surface come to a head. It all happens in a very genteel, restrained Southern-mannered fashion, masking the sexual energy driving them crazy.
Atmosphere is a driving force of this film, and cinematographer Philippe Le Sourd’s gorgeous shooting of the live oaks dripping with Spanish moss and the planation house that’s seen better days sets the perfect tone for this steamy yet cloistered tale. Coppola won best director at Cannes for this film and it is easy to see why. The small cast is perfectly balanced, using every one as a fleshed-out full character, even the little girls. It’s definitely a chick flick, but would also make a good date choice. And I highly recommend seeing it in a theater because the shooting is just so wonderful.