From the melancholy Charlotte in Lost in Translation to the cloistered sisters of The Virgin Suicides to even Marie Antoinette, Sofia Coppola has had a longtime fascination with isolated young women. But the writer-director’s next project, The Beguiled, explores that theme in a decidedly unexpected setting: a women’s boarding school in 1864 Virginia at the height of the Civil War.
Despite the period-film trappings, the story has a dark undercurrent of dread and violence. “I haven’t really done a genre film,” Coppola says. “It was fun to figure out how to approach that but still [keep the film] in my style, and to have this kind of beautiful, dreamy world that I like — but with a plot!”
And what a plot. Based on the 1966 Thomas Cullinan novel, The Beguiled stars Nicole Kidman as the headmistress of the stately Miss Martha Farnsworth Seminary for Young Ladies. Kirsten Dunst plays Edwina, a teacher, and Elle Fanning, a teenage student named Alicia. The school, in some disrepair, has remained largely untouched by the war, but the girls’ seclusion is interrupted by the discovery of a wounded soldier from the Union Army (Colin Farrell). His arrival kicks off a twisty tale of seduction and jealousy.
A 1971 film adaptation starred Clint Eastwood as the injured man, but Coppola shifted the focus from a male protagonist to tell the story from the point of view of the female characters. “The main crux of the story is about the dynamics between a group of women all stuck together, and then also the power shifts between men and women,” she says. “So for me, it’s very universal, but it’s in this exotic setting of the Southern gentility.”
That also means amping up the Southern gothic style, from the overgrown gardens to the pale floral dresses. “It’s just trying to create that atmosphere, so you can feel these long, hot days when not much is happening,” she says. “I liked that [the costumes] had been washed a million times and left out in the sun. It just felt very feminine, almost like they were ghosts left behind.” And although all that faded Southern elegance was a bit of a departure, Coppola dove in with relish. “Just girls in white nightgowns and candelabras was really fun for me,” she says, laughing. “So I was like, ‘Well, we have to have that.’”
The Beguiled will hit theaters on June 23. Angourie Rice (The Nice Guys), Oona Laurence (Pete’s Dragon), and Addison Riecke also star. Check out some more exclusive first-look photos below, and head here to watch the first full trailer.