The Beguiled Blu-ray Review
Winning her Best Director at Cannes, Sofia Coppola's majestic The Beguiled is an impressively-helmed adaptation of the haunting novel.Few will remember Don Siegel's 1971 adaptation, which was an unusual lead vehicle for Clint Eastwood at the time, but Coppola's version treads very familiar territory with its take on Thomas P. Cullinan's source novel. The story sees a wounded Union soldier reluctantly taken in at an all-girl school in the height of the Civil War, where they help him recover. Whilst he recuperates, he starts to bond with several women at the school - including the cold headmistress, the outsider teacher, and one of the more confident schoolgirls - although the relationships that develop can but end in conflict. Coppola may not distance herself from either the source novel or - inadvertently - the original adaptation, but her vision is undeniably staggeringly beautiful.It's a moody, atmospheric piece which cleverly nudges the perspective to that of the girls rather than Colin Farrell's wounded soldier. The result is one of the director's most accomplished works since Lost in Translation (although admittedly her last couple of outings, Somewhere and The Bling Ring have been navel-gazingly pretentious). Whilst Farrell enjoys his best work in years (True Detective Season 2 notwithstanding), he doesn't quite carry the latter stage reveal of his character, although the trio of lead actresses - Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst and Elle Fanning - are all excellent. It's a subtly powerful piece, garnering a veritably feminist vibe from a distinctly un-female-friendly era, and it's captured with an exquisite eye for natural beauty.
Picture QualityUniversal's Region Free UK Blu-ray release of The Beguiled does strong work with Coppola's visually distinctive material - it's undoubtedly a big reason why she won Best Director - despite the extreme low level lighting and inherently soft, hazy style to the piece. It's unquestionably beautiful, right from the opening shot, but doesn't quite allow for a reference presentation, despite trying it's best.
Whilst it might not make for conventional demo material, it's hard not to appreciate the visual majesty of the piece
Coppola's feature was shot on film, finished in 4K, and yet only released on Blu-ray, however it's hard to see whether they'd be able to compensate for the limitations inherent to the source material. For every near-perfectly framed, gloriously period image, there's another which boasts slight haze and even a hint of ringing around the main characters, particularly on the middle-ground. It doesn't help that Coppola has (quite justifiably) attempted to shoot entire sequences to little more than candlelight, to reflect the era, bathing half the movie in deep, almost impenetrable shadows the black levels of which the encode only just copes with. The 1080p/AVC-encode is also rather unusually framed in the little-used 1.66:1 aspect ratio, as was the theatrical intention of the director, and every stylistic choice made suits the period piece of the feature, which throws you right back into the 19th century with ease.
For all its (admittedly only intermittent) technical faults, there's no denying the sheer beauty on offer. There are countless shots where Coppola has framed the key central elements - normally one or two of the characters in the foreground - with a slightly out-of-focus natural background, giving the feature a dream-like quality that is rarely encountered these days. Whilst it may not make for conventional demo material, it's hard not to appreciate the visual majesty of this piece.
Sound QualityIt's not conventional demo material, and never professes to be, but it's a very good presentation nonetheless
The accompanying DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 provides a strong and perfectly understated affair, allowing the all-important dialogue (after all, it's easily stage play material) with prominent crystal clear prioritisation across the frontal array. Effects are mostly used to bring the natural environment to life, almost entirely ambient, and giving surrounding woodland life and the echoing wood-dominated halls of the school some authenticity. There are very sporadic cracks of gunfire - almost always the source of background tension, kicking off in the far distance with muskets and artillery proving the war is seldom far from the gates of the school and, whilst the surrounds don't exactly get a workout, there's plenty of atmosphere crafted by the moody piece. The same can be said of the minimalist score, which is a haunting and evocative but simultaneously often almost unnoticed affair that gives the drama just the right nudge when necessary. It's not conventional demo material, and never professes to be, but it's a very good presentation nonetheless.
ExtrasThere's little in the way of extras beyond a couple of short Featurettes: A Shift in Perspective and A Southern Style, both only a few minutes long, looking at the style and setting for Coppola's visually impressive piece.
Blu-ray VerdictOne of the director's most accomplished works since Lost in Translation
Universal's Region Free UK Blu-ray release of The Beguiled provides very good video and audio as well as a couple of short extras and fans of the director's work, or those who like the sound of this, should definitely check it out.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £14.99
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