BookTrail at the Movies – The Beguiled
Friday is a good day for going to the movies. But readers of this site know the book is more often than not, better than the film right? Who has read or seen The Beguiled by Thomas Cullinan and what did you think?
From first glances anyone would say this book is begging to be filmed; it’s set in a lush white plantation house in the middle of the woods, those who live there are young girls studying under the tutelage of a woman who takes no fuss. They are cut off from the world in more ways than one – physically but also emotionally. Their shock at meeting a soldier is palpable as they are aware the war is ongoing yet they live their lives in such isolation that they might live anywhere.
But the lush white plantation home is large, gothic, sparse and with only the few girls staying there, like a house of ghosts too. The Civil War as backdrop adds an element of fear and danger to the plot and it’s a shock when the story seems to suggest that the biggest danger is not the one you might imagine.
The plot of the book all takes place in the plantation house and shows the interaction between the outsider, the soldier , and the girls who live there. The tension is there from the start with this kind of set up and it’s a battle of wills all round. The girls suspect the soldier will try to seduce them and the mistress of the house wafts around the rooms like a ghostly matron ready to strike if he makes a move. The girls become clearer in the film – voices are often mixed in the book I found – but the tension and suspense between them is fraught with fizz and what’s to come.
The book takes place in Virginia but the film was shot on location in The Madewood Plantation House in Louisiana, there is a real sense of southern spirt throughout the story. The interiors were filmed inside actress Jennifer Coolidge’s home in New Orleans!
The setting is what makes this book – a small plantation house with a mixed race woman, the house slave and white students in the middle of the Civil War and all that entails. The heat, the oppression, the sexuality and the sense of how on earth this is going to end kept me reading. And those frissons of excitement and the unknown, the mouse in a cage of cats, the mouse which fits back and then oh that ending.
Interesting to note that the mixed race character has been replaced by a white actress. The deep South and its issues of race at the time were very specific but the director has said in interviews that she didn’t want to focus on that or to make it part of the story as she couldn’t treat it in the manner it deserved in a film about the soldier and the girls.
The book and the film differ in many respects but they share the suspense and ethereal quality of girls floating around a large plantation house in the deep south. The setting in both film and book is visually stunning and the story slightly easier to follow in the film as the voice of each girl is more clearly defined.
Which one beguiles you?