It’s a game of trust and deception in Thomas P. Cullinan’s novel, The Beguiled, which is being adapted for the screen…again. Originally published in 1966 under the title A Painted Veil, the Civil War thriller blends history, suspense and even a little romance. It’s a dark, engrossing tale that caught the eye of Sofia Coppola, who’s adapted it for the screen with an all-star cast that includes Nicole Kidman, Colin Farrell and Kirsten Dunst.
The novel, which was re-released on June 13 as a movie tie-in, tells the story of a wounded Yankee soldier who turns up in the woods near Miss Martha Farnsworth Seminary for Young Ladies in rural Virginia during the Civil War. The women take him in, though his presence begins to stir up their repressed feelings, made worse by their isolation during the war. There are women and girls of all ages in the house, including Martha Farnsworth (played by Kidman in the new film) and Edwina Dabney (Dunst). It’s not quite clear if the soldier, John McBurney (Farrell), is a prisoner or the most powerful of them all, as he begins to both play with the women’s affections and tries to escape from their clutches. You’ll be questioning everyone’s motives as the story devolves into a psychological thriller that will have you guessing until the very end.
The Beguiled was first adapted for the screen in a 1971 film starring Clint Eastwood as the wayward soldier. It’s a definite classic, but we can’t wait to see this new adaptation, especially knowing that Sofia Coppola is at the helm. Just check out the trailer and try not to get, well, beguiled:
The film is out in the US and we can’t wait to go see it. We’re also planning on rereading Cullinan’s classic novel to get us in a beguiled mood. But we know we’ll be craving even more thrilling historical novels as soon as we’re done.
Here are three upcoming reads that deal with similar themes as The Beguiled: war, gender and navigating questions of trust.
The Hidden Light of Northern Fires, Daren Wang (St. Martin’s Press, August 29, 2017)
Just like The Beguiled, Wang’s debut novel narrows in on a truly remarkable story set during the Civil War. About the true town of Town Line, NY – the only secessionist town in the North – The Hidden Light of Northern Fires follows two families on opposing sides. At the center is Mary Willis, an educated young woman who’s determined to do her part in abolishing slavery. That means becoming part of the underground railroad and rescuing a slave, Joe Bell, who escapes from the Bell plantation in West Virginia. Joe and Mary find solace in each other, even as the war rages around them. But they can’t stay hidden for long, and soon loyalties are tested, enemies emerge and Mary is forced to face the true realities of war and freedom.
The Last Tudor, Philippa Gregory (Touchstone, August 8, 2017)
Gregory is the queen of humanizing the past, giving faces and stories to those untouchable royals who are often regulated to history books. In The Last Tudor, she examines the life of Lady Jane Grey and her sisters, Katherine and Mary. Jane’s fate is well-known – after being the queen of England for only nine days she’s sentenced to die by the hands of Queen Mary. But in the story, her sisters have similar ill-fates – Katherine, heir to the crown, finds herself pregnant and facing imprisonment. While Mary, born a dwarf, must navigate the murky waters and dark secrets of Queen Elizabeth’s court. All three sisters come to life (sometimes tragically so), in this female-driven novel that is sure to appeal to fans of The Beguiled.
The Life She Was Given, Ellen Marie Wiseman (Kensington, July 25, 2017)
Alternating between two different time periods, The Life She Was Given tells the story of two girls – Lilly and Julia Blackwood – who both get their start at Blackwood Manor. For Lilly, it’s a prison. In 1931, she’s kept locked inside, told that she’s not fit to enter society. But then one night she’s sold to the passing circus, where she eventually finds a sense of belonging with the elephants and their trainer, Cole. Years later, Julia Blackwood returns to Blackwood Manor after the death of her parents, determined to breathe life back into the stuffy, strict home she grew up in. It’s there that she learns about Lilly’s story, and the dark secrets that her family has been hiding for decades. Similar to The Beguiled, this is a story about the destinies that are thrust upon women throughout the years, and the ways in which they defy the fate that has been laid out for them.
Main image: Ben Rothstein/Focus Features