by writer/director Sofia Coppola
I didn’t set out to do a remake—it’s not really what I do—but when my friend, our production designer Anne Ross, gave me Thomas Cullinan’s book about a girls school in the South during the Civil War, where a wounded enemy soldier is brought in and disrupts their lives, I was intrigued. I saw Don Siegel’s movie starring Clint Eastwood, and I thought, hmm, what would this look like if it was done from the female perspective, because that is what interests me. This is 1863 in the American South, where women have been brought up to adhere to the rules of etiquette and manners, and to cater to men, and because of the war there have been no men around for a very long time, so when Corporal John McBurney comes into the house, it’s interesting to watch how these Southern Ladies react. I’ve always been interested in the dynamics between women, and the power struggle between men and women.
It was important for me to create a world that felt like the world the women were living in: narrow, claustrophobic, overgrown. So the sense of place was really important. Our cinematographer Philippe Le Sourd worked with me to use those old oak trees, the Spanish moss, the atmospheric mist, and production designer Anne Ross really helped with the details and the monotony of the women’s daily lives—sewing, bible study, gardening. Stacey Battat, who did the costumes, helped design a look that was true to the time, but also felt natural to a modern eye. For example, we chose to remove their hoops as there were no longer men around. When McBurney enters their lives, everything changes.
I loved working with Nicole, Kirsten, Elle and my young actresses. I had them in my mind’s eye when I was writing the script. I thought it was fun to cast them against type. I love that Kirsten plays such a repressed character, when she is really bubbly and extroverted. And Elle, who I haven’t worked with since she was a child in Somewhere, plays a sexually precocious girl, nothing like who she is in real life. Nicole I’d loved since I saw her in To Die For—she is so good at the wordless look and dark comic meaning. One of the things I wanted to try to show was that women speak a lot without saying a word, and that the ways women communicate with each other are very different from how men communicate.
The house, the setting, the 1860s South during the Civil War, the rules of etiquette at the time, even the aspect ratio of the movie provided a framework for my characters. I wanted to explore what was going on in the women’s minds and how they would behave, and I think that despite being set such a long time ago, there are some modern truths about being a woman that are revealed.
I loved getting into this story of desire and repression in the heat of the South. I hope audiences have fun with the tension, emotions and unexpected turn of events.
We made this film for the big screen and shot it on 35mm. I hope people enjoy seeing it in movie theatres.