Against her better judgment, Miss Martha [Nicole Kidman], a Southern lady and head of the girls’ school housed in her ancestral home, has taken in and nursed back to health a wounded Yankee soldier/deserter, John McBurney [Colin Farrell]...
As McBurney [Colin Farrell] begins to recover, each of the girls sneak into his room. Having been raised on “How to catch a man”, but with all of the men off to war, Alicia [Elle Fanning] is eager to practice her skills...
The ladies of Farnsworth decide music will help their patient heal... Miss Edwina Dabney [Kirsten Dunst], Emily [Emma Howard], Marie [Addison Riecke], Amy [Oona Laurence], Jane [Angourie Rice], Alicia [Elle Fanning] and Miss Martha [Nicole Kidman]...
Music Room/Infirmary… Colin Farrell, as the healing McBurney... Coppola reveals, “In the book, the soldier is Irish. When I met with Colin and heard his natural Irish accent, I thought it would be great to keep that and make McBurney even more exotic for the women. He is a mercenary who was paid to take another man’s place in the war. But I wanted him to charm, that it not be obvious that he’s bad news.”
Directed by Sofia Coppola, who also wrote the screenplay, the story unfolds during the Civil War at a Southern girls’ boarding school run by Miss Martha Farnsworth [Nicole Kidman] in her ancestral plantation house, assisted by French teacher, Miss Edwina Dabney [Kirsten Dunst]. Its sheltered young women take in an injured enemy soldier, John McBurney [Colin Farrell], rescued from the nearby woods by one of the young students. As they provide refuge and tend to his wounds, the house is taken over with sexual tension and dangerous rivalries...and taboos are broken in an unexpected turn of events. --Focus Features
“My friend Production Designer Anne Ross, had first told me about the 1971 movie The Beguiled, which I had never seen but which I knew was highly regarded,” Coppola shares. “I watched it, and the story just kept staying in my mind, how it was weird and the turns were unexpected.” Intrigued, Coppola wanted to explore the theme of women isolated during the Civil War. In writing the screenplay adaptation, she went back to the book to tell the story from the female characters’ perspective for her film, and worked with her team of artisans to bring it about.
Set Decorator Amy Beth Silver SDSA gives SET DECOR a few glimpses into the making of this moody, artfully stylistic, quietly exotic thriller, which Colin Farrell describes as, “...the most aesthetically rich film that I’ve been a part of – THE NEW WORLD is pretty extraordinary visually, but that is pure nature. THE BEGUILED is a lot more interiors and design.”
SET DECOR: Nicole Kidman says...“I was so happy to support Sofia as a female director, and I always thought that she made such atmospheric movies in such a signature style. That was the main thing which drew me to working with her.” Please tell us about collaborating with Coppola and Production Designer Anne Ross...
I came to know Anne and Sofia from television commercials we have worked on together. Anne had brought this project to Sofia— so by the time we started pre-production they’d been discussing it for over a year, and had a very clear vision for the film. Anne put together extraordinary collages, pulling references from historical photographs, daguerreotypes, period and contemporary films, fashion photography, 19th century painting and drawing, auction catalogues -- really an amazing collection of images that drew out the mood and aesthetic of the film so perfectly. They drew a world where Kate Moss, Sally Mann, John Singer Sargent and William Eggleston all make sense together.
SET DECOR: What can you tell us about filming on location in the New Orleans area, from the National Historic Landmark, the plantation house Madewood, to a mansion within the city?
I arrived in New Orleans only a few weeks after a devastating storm ravaged Denham Springs – a large antiques district town just outside of NOLA. And I arrived on the heels of three bigger budget productions of the same period (12 YEARS A SLAVE, FREE STATE OF JONES and ROOTS). Needless to say the town felt fairly depleted of exactly the kind of things I needed to find. Even Ebay and Etsy felt picked over. I was lucky to have found an amazing assistant, Jill Broadfoot, who had not only worked on all those other films but who also had a complete knowledge of the period. We were very reliant on her expertise and she contributed a lot to the way the movie looks. Beauty would at times win over historical accuracy—but that’s something I’m okay with.
One major challenge was that there was exactly one fabric store in town at the time. In New York, you can swatch for days – but ultimately I liked the discipline of having restrictions. And the same was true in regards to what was available in the area.
Shooting at Madewood Plantation was a mixed bag. It was 2 hours outside of New Orleans and in a pretty remote area. The plantation itself was grand and beautiful and Anne and Jennifer Deaghan, the art director, were able to create that beautiful garden in the back. We shot all of the exteriors there, as well as the dining room, the kitchen and a smoke house that you don’t really see in the film. But in the end, it’s hard to shoot at a place that has this dark history and not feel discomforted.
We shot the rest of the interiors at a gorgeous house in the Garden District of New Orleans. That location was a puzzle because we couldn’t paint or put anything (even tape) on the walls other than where the homeowner had already nailed something.
SET DECOR: Coppola says the film “has this dusty pale feminine look at the beginning to emphasize coming into this female world...As the story progresses, it shifts to take a more Southern Gothic style...”
Yes, the palette of the film came about organically but it was a girl’s world, and so pink and pastels have a large role in the film. The main idea was to put McBurney in the middle of this aggressively female world. Sofia is very fond of lace and doilies—and so am I. However, after McBurney gets his leg amputated, the lace pillows and brocade bedspread go away and things go downhill from there.
SET DECOR: How did you manage a tight shooting schedule – 26 days – and a tight budget?!
Our budget was LOW. At the end of the film I was moving the curtain tiebacks from room to room because we had run out of money. We justified the spare interiors and bare floors as a result of depleted resources appropriate for the end of the war.
SET DECOR: Coppola does mention...“I was surprised at how they lived when things were so scarce. We had a Civil War re-enactor teaching us how to do the medical applications of that time...and the handiwork, the embroidery; they had run out of paper and they were writing on the edges of books...”
We were careful and specific about where we spent money. I would show Anne and Sofia something and they would inevitably ask, “Can we afford it?” They were relentlessly considerate and supportive. How great is that?
Working with Anne and Sofia was a joy from beginning to end. I’ve worked for a long time in this industry and know well that the creativity, intelligence and respect they exemplify is something unique – particularly in a male dominated industry that very rarely puts a woman at the helm.
Alan Songer at Omega|Cinema Props was so accommodating, efficient and nice,
amazing to work with throughout the entire film...
Daybed: Fireside Antiques, custom cushion by Draperies by Leila
Window treatments: Artee Fabrics, Cooper Lace, Draperies by Leila
Chair: Lucullus Antiques
Bedding: Wirthmore Antiques, Restoration Hardware, Bohemianville Antiques
Antiques screen: Borrowed from Madewood Plantation
Artwork: Inessa Stewart, Omega|Cinema Props, Renaissance Antiques
Desk: Renaissance Antiques
Furniture: Nola Props, Madewood Plantation
Smalls: Nola Props, Ebay, Etsy, Lucullus Antiques, Korner Shoppe Antiques
Window treatments: Family Heirloom Weavers