Sophia Coppola returns to the director’s chair with this week’s The Beguiled. A remake of the 1971 film starring Clint Eastwood and Geraldine Page, this one features Nicole Kidman as Martha Farnsworth, the headmistress of a school for girls in Civil War-era Virginia. One day one of her students comes across a Union soldier named John McBurney (Colin Farrell) who’s been severely wounded. Martha and the girls, including Edwina and Alicia (Kirsten Dunst and Elle Fanning, respectively), take him into tend to him and nurse him back to health.
(side note: If this sounds a lot like Sir Galahad’s brief time in the Castle Anthrax…you’re not the only one.)
Problems begin to arise almost as soon as McBurney gets his strength back. Despite strict instructions for him not to fraternize with the girls, Edwina soon becomes attached to him, believing his declarations of love. But he’s not the best, most upright guy around and has been fooling around with Alicia as well. That causes tension in the house among the girls, but that tension is directed back around at McBurney, who feels the full weight of the women he’s scorned as well as their protector.
The first and only poster is just fantastic. Like many of the one-sheets for Coppola’s movies, “pink” is the dominant color, this time used for the title treatment that runs along the side of the design, formatted for landscape display along with the alignment of the names of the main cast and the credits. The three primary women, Dunst, Kidman and Fanning, are shown in their genteel glory, all sitting or hovering around the bed of Farrell, whose face is just out of the camera’s range. It’s a gorgeous poster that sells a lovely domestic drama with the exception of the copy, which reads “Innocent, until betrayed” that takes things in a dark direction.
The first trailer definitely sets an interesting tone. It opens with a Union soldier being found by a young girl. He’s brought home to the house she shares with the rest of the women in her family and the tension quickly ramps up as two of them vie for his affection, which is forbidden by their mother. A series of quick shots ends with him shouting in the background, asking what they’ve done to him.
It’s pretty great, working to create a feel that all is not what it seems here. It almost plays out like Misery at the end and shows that these aren’t helpless belles here, they’re perfectly capable not only of defending themselves but apparently taking proactive measures to right some wrongs.
The second trailer hits many of the same beats as the first, just in a slightly different way. The focus this time is on the dynamic between the women who live on the estate and how that delicate relationship is upended by the arrival of the wounded stranger. A betrayal sets things down a dark path and we see the kinds of turmoil that ensue for everyone involved until it ends, again, with Farrell yelling after the “vengeful bitches.”
Online and Social
The official website loads and begins playing the second trailer. Close that and the front page of the site offers prompts to watch the trailer again, buy tickets or subscribe to email updates. There are also links to the Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles established for the movie.
Scroll down the page and you get the usual Focus collection of media that gives the appearance of only being marginally organized, despite the content menu on the left that shows up. So you get a mix of social updates from the cast and others, videos including the trailers and press appearances by Coppola and others, official stills, links to press interviews and lots more.
The social media push was odd enough it attracted the attention of Jason Bailey at Flavorwire, who noted the contrast between the bright pink branding and the dark, gothic tone of the movie itself.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
Nothing in the way of TV advertising that I’ve come across or been able to find. Some online advertising was done that used the key art to drive ticket sales and the trailers have been used for social media ads, but that’s the extent of the paid push as far as I know.
Media and Publicity
With such a female-centric cast and crew, that combination became a central focus of the campaign. That included comments from Dunst about how filming a sex scene is so different with a female director as opposed to a male director.
The movie was one of the handful that had its premiere at this year’s Cannes International Film Festival. While at Cannes Coppola also talked about not just this movie but also why the franchise films she’s sometimes offered don’t interest her at all as well as the struggles she faces not just as an independent filmmaker but a female one to boot. The movie was one of a few Kidman appeared in at the festival, leading to a narrative in the press about the actress’s resurgence and her work ethic.
In an extended interview, Coppola talked about what attracted her to the material, the process of shooting in such a gothic environment, the styles on display, what this period piece still has to tell us today and much more. A short while later comments from Fanning appeared alongside a new photo in EW’s summer movie preview.
Coppola and the cast made the usual comments about working together, the story and more at the movie’s premiere. During an appearance on “The Late Late Show” Coppola had a bit of fun by showing off the off-camera antics the cast engaged in while still in costume.
It makes sense that this being the third movie Dunst and Coppola have made together that they’d do some joint press revolving around that fact and looking back at previous collaborations. It was also, it should be noted, the second time the director has worked with Fanning. There were other features like this one of Coppola on her own, most all of which don’t fail to mention her famous lineage.
A minor firestorm emerged in the last days before release when Coppola addressed what some were calling a disturbing commission: The excising of a slave from the original story in this new version. She explained that forthrightly, saying basically she didn’t want the only black person in a story focused on female empowerment to be a slave, as well as that if she were going to tackle that topic she wanted to do so more fully and not as a side note in a bigger story. It’s a reasonable answer and approach, though that didn’t stop some outrage as people claimed she was trying to erase mistreatment of blacks from the history of the south.
Because I can’t put it better than I already have, I’ll lift these points from my post earlier this week about the changed portrayal of gender roles from 1971 to 2017:
The entire campaign is one of female empowerment, of them holding the key to their own fates and not being beholden to the whims of any man. That’s clear in the trailers, which present Farrell’s McBurney as a secondary character at best, even if he’s an instigator of much of the story. It’s clear in the social media campaign, which has used cinemagraphic Tweets that overlay current phrases like “Get it girl” in bright colors over the dark, gothic images from the movie. Others have labeled Kidman’s Martha as the “Head Bitch in Charge.” Banner ads have proclaimed on June 23rd, “Good girls go bad.”
The female empowerment is so palpable it’s surprising a character isn’t wearing an “Ask me about my feminist agenda” t-shirt and that the movie hasn’t received wall-to-wall cable news condemnation for indoctrinating youth to believe men are all evil. The bright pink text used in ads, posters and social media posts are so stereotypically “girly” while the actions of the characters are anything but cute and adorable.
That may be over the top for some. But it’s completely on-brand for Coppola and fits stylistically into the campaigns for previous movies like Marie Antoinette and The Virgin Suicides. And it’s absolutely in-line with where the culture is right now, as women are allowed (and encouraged) to be both simultaneously girlish, embracing all things pink and frilly, and every bit as fierce and self-protective as men have long been. That’s the strongest message the movie’s campaign offers.