As ‘The Beguiled’ looms, here are five literary works that Coppola should consider next
From the sympathetic portrait of French dauphine Marie Antoinette in Antonia Fraser’s 2001 biography, Marie Antoinette: The Journey, to the tragic tale of the Lisbon sisters in Jeffrey Eugenides 1993 novel, The Virgin Suicides, director Sofia Coppola is a maestro when it comes to translating contemporary literary texts to celluloid.
Like fellow stylistic auteurs Wes Anderson and Quentin Tarantino, Coppola’s films possess tell-tale hallmarks: the melancholy feminine themes of The Virgin Suicides, the dreamy tones of Marie Antoinette, the eccentric humour of Lost in Translation. They are qualities which make her work instantly recognisable among viewers.
This year, the Academy Award-winning filmmaker will release her vision of Thomas P. Cullinan’s 1966 Southern Gothic, The Beguiled. As the film’s haunting trailers have so far displayed, Coppola’s take will undoubtedly be awash in the feminine and feminist hues so prominent in her filmography. The latest teaser concludes with Colin Farrell’s Union soldier shrieking about “vengeful bitches” as the Southern belles (Nicole Kidman, Elle Fanning, Kirsten Dunst) lounge by a grand piano, mistresses of their own power game.
Yet, as the director treads once more into adapting a written work, we cannot help but fantasize about all the other delectable Coppola-esque books we’d love to see her bring to the big screen.
THE LAST UNICORN (1968) – PETER S. BEAGLE
Beagle’s fantasy novel is about a unicorn who discovers a greedy king, using the dark powers of a demonic red bull, has captured the rest of her mythic species and is hoarding them for their beauty. Adapted to animation in 1982, it features the voice talent of Mia Farrow, Jeff Bridges and the late Christopher Lee. The somber, psychedelic tale could be read as an allegory for misogyny, where the feminine (the unicorn) is coveted and brutalised by the masculine (the red bull). In one scene, the harrowing emotional aftermath of rape is explored when a magician transforms the unicorn into a human girl against her will, literally denying her of her bodily autonomy. Coppola would be wonderful at translating the naiveté and isolation of a unicorn-turned-ingénue to live-action. After all, she was once attached to a live-action remake of The Little Mermaid. The scene in 2006’s Marie Antoinette in which Kirsten Dunst, playing the wistful Austrian archduchess, is stripped of all visceral links to her life back in Vienna while en route to Versailles mirrors the existential uncertainty of Beagle’s ethereal heroine. And just as the forlorn Antoinette eventually discovers her inner power, so does the brave, enduring unicorn.
THE BELL JAR (1963) – SYLVIA PLATH
Plath’s seminal roman à clef explores the plight of Esther Greenwood, a young woman who falls deep into depression after becoming frustrated with society’s prescribed gender roles. Similar to Charlotte’s (Scarlett Johansson) meandering detachment in Lost in Translation, Esther is adrift in her own societal disconnect. The scene where Charlotte rejects her fashion photographer beau’s superficial lifestyle and goes off to wander the shrines of Kyoto, Air’s mystical electronica playing in the background, draws atmospheric parallels to Esther’s own disorienting arrival in New York City at the beginning of the novel. Similarly, Coppola would beautifully translate the scene in which Esther breaks down in tears during a photoshoot on the last day of her internship, no doubt capturing the tormented young woman’s inner turmoil and plaintive self-presentation to a world from which she feels removed.
HOW TO BUILD A GIRL (2014) – CAITLIN MORAN
British journalist Moran weaves a cautionary coming-of-age tale in this novel about a working class girl who moves beyond welfare and up the ranks of music journalism in the early 90s. A cross between the wry, self-deprecating humour of Bridget Jones’s Diary and the music journo wunderkind storyline of Almost Famous, the book is wrought with drugs, sex, and rock’n’roll, all projected through the fractured lens of an insecure teen. Grounded in music subculture, Moran’s story would benefit from the neon pop- and youth-culture sheen of Coppola’s energetic The Bling Ring as well as the irreverent punk spirit of her 1998 short film about reckless, precocious high school students, Lick the Star. Plus the director, who famously paired Bow Wow Wow and Siouxsie and the Banshees with 18th century France, would craft a killer soundtrack. Some Mazzy Star, Hole, Pixies and Sonic Youth would do just the trick.
VALLEY OF THE DOLLS (1966) – JACQUELINE SUSANN
Mark Robson’s Pepto-hued 1967 film adaptation of Susann’s novel remains a cult classic. The melodramatic story about three ambitious women – fashion model Anne, glamorous showgirl Jennifer and vaudevillian-turned-Hollywood star Neely – who battle the demons of drug addiction, ageing and the vicious cycle of celebrity is delectably soapy eye candy. Within Coppola’s hands, however, Valley has the potential to act as a poignant defense against the harsh patriarchal system at the crux of the main characters’ collective decay. The doctors swiftly prescribe Neely pills without getting to the root of her issues; the industry sexualizes Jennifer; the men infantilise Anne at work. Similar to the Lisbon sisters’ hopelessness in The Virgin Suicides, the trio are victims of society’s expectations and mishandling of women’s aspirations. Aesthetically, Coppola’s signature lush atmosphere and penchant for period filmmaking would lend itself effortlessly to Susann’s protofeminist 60s environment, making its subject matter less retro camp and more dreamy-sad (Neely’s harrowing drug spiral deserves a more tender touch). Thematically, the director would likely treat the women with the empathy they’re overdue.
EILEEN (2015) – OTTESSA MOSHFEGH
Though well-versed in whimsy, Coppola rarely shies away from darkness in her films. Moshfegh’s 2015 pseudo-noir novel, which follows macabre 24-year-old Eileen Dunlop as she wallows in the limbo that is suburban Boston circa 1964, is brimming with the dark humour and blasé, indulgent characters often found within the director’s work. Eileen works as a guard at a juvenile detention facility. She harbours an unhealthy crush on one of the teen inmates, drawing a parallel to the bittersweet May-December relationship between Charlotte and Bill Murray’s Bob Harris in Lost in Translation. Additionally, the character’s proclivity for navel-gazing introspection, as well as her dysfunctional relationship with her alcoholic father, runs loosely adjacent to the father-daughter drama present in the director’s Somewhere. And the moodier, more mysterious tones of The Virgin Suicides would suit Eileen’s overarching gloomy atmosphere.
The Beguiled is out in cinemas June 23