For some reason that I cannot fathom, I still hear people rave about Sofia Coppola’s Lost In Translation (2003) – I suspect it has something to do with Bill Murray’s cult following. Marie Antoinette (2006) was dreadful and Somewhere (2010) unwatchable, so I should not have been surprised to find that her latest outing is entirely underwhelming and vaguely ridiculous. Miss Martha (Nicole Kidman), with her helper Edwina (Kirsten Dunst), is in charge, as teacher and minder, of a handful of student boarders, including the photogenic Elle Fanning as Alicia.
They all live together in one of those white-columned, ice-cream-cake mansions that seem to exist only in darkly verdant, steamy Georgia. It is 1864, and the Civil War is nearing its bloody conclusion.
The setting is exclusively feminine, something which is tiresomely reiterated in cuts to Martha or Edwina viewing the distant masculine conflagration through a telescope (Coppola benefits from a simplistic attitude that equates quietness with subtlety). Into this claustrophobic, all-female environment comes Corporal McBurney (Colin Farrell), a wounded Union soldier. McBurney, on the mend, is a huge attraction for his pretty carers, all of whom are beguiled by the handsome newcomer’s easy charm – and none of them so much as the more mature, smitten Edwina.
There is a lot of near-seduction going on, but not much else, and Coppola’s decision to shoot her film in what would approximate the candlelight of the period only adds to the dullness. When McBurney finally makes a move on one of his hostesses, the consequences are drastic but comical in a way that Coppola would not have intended. Kidman’s coldness is perfectly suited to the part, but it’s sad to discover that Dunst has evolved into an actress who can be convincingly cast as a frumpy virginal spinster. (The passage of time takes no prisoners.) A gorgeous rendition of Aura Lee was a personal highlight, but overall it’s a bit of a yawn that is silly rather than tragic or creepy. Fabulous frocks (Stacey Battat) steal the show.