Sofia Coppola‘s new Civil War-era psychosexual drama, The Beguiled, boasts one of her best ensembles since The Virgin Suicides, with a cast that includes past collaborators like Kirsten Dunst and Elle Fanning, and names new to her orbit, including Nicole Kidman and Colin Farrell. Perhaps one of the most memorable performances in the film, though, is delivered by a house. Most of the exteriors, as well as select interiors, for The Beguiled — which unfolds at a Virginia girls’ school where only a skeleton crew of staff and students remain amidst the fighting — were filmed at Louisiana’s historic Madewood Plantation Home, a former sugarcane plantation house-turned-bed and breakfast located some 75 miles west of New Orleans. Completed in 1848, the Madewood has led an eventful 169-year history up to and including its current incarnation as a tourist attraction and film location. Here are five fascinating facts about the silent star of The Beguiled, which adds more theaters this holiday weekend after opening in limited release on June 23.
The Madewood Took (At Least) Eight Years to Build
The Madewood’s builder, Thomas Pugh, was a North Carolina transplant who moved to the banks of the Bayou Lafourche in 1818 at age 22 looking to enhance his family’s fortune in the sugarcane trade. He married Eliza Catherine Foley seven years later, and their family eventually grew to 16 children, although only nine survived to their adult years. Meanwhile, Pugh amassed 10,000 acres in land for his sugarcane business. In need of a manor to house both his sizable family and business empire, Pugh commissioned Ireland-born, New Orleans-dwelling architect Henry Howard to design and oversee construction of the Madewood.
Howard conceived of the home in a Greek Revival style that stood apart from many of the other local plantations. Design and construction spanned eight years, from 1840 to 1848, and the home boasts 23 rooms, a grand central staircase, and an attached kitchen. (That kitchen, as well as the dining room, is featured in The Beguiled. Many other interiors were filmed in a private home in New Orleans owned by actress Jennifer Coolidge.) Pugh himself only enjoyed the Madewood for four years, passing away on Oct. 31, 1852 at age 56 from yellow fever. (Some sources indicate that the house was still not fully completed at the time of his death.) The plantation then passed to his widow, Eliza, along with land holdings, tools, crops, and, yes, slaves.
Confronting the History of Slavery On the Grounds
A 1993 article by Times-Picayune staff writer, Coleman Warner, offers a strikingly bifurcated account of daily life at Madewood and surrounding Pugh-owned plantations before and after the Civil War. In the article, Mary Flower Pugh Russell, the great-granddaughter of Thomas Pugh’s half-brother, William Whitmell Pugh, is quoted as saying that her Pugh ancestors viewed slavery as “an accepted fact,” adding, “They took [responsibility for] slaves very seriously, I think. Not all owners did, I know that.” In his own 1881 memoir, William Whitmell Pugh wrote of his half-brother: “This picture would not be complete if I failed to not(e) his [Thomas’s] kindness to his slaves in health and his care and watchfulness over them in sickness.”
Not surprisingly, descendants of Madewood’s slave population, which numbered 251 individuals according to an 1852 report cited in the article, remember their ancestors handing down very different accounts. One such man, Lionel Tapo Sr., recalled a relative and former slave, Louisa Sidney Martin, telling him, “How they lived on the farm and how they whipped the slaves. At one time, I think she told me, she used to carry the whips to whip the unruly slaves. That’s not a nice thing to remember, but I was getting this from her mouth. She said how her overseer was a man named Mr. Pugh. She said he was so mean.”
Warner’s article also features other memories from Martin herself, as they appeared in a previously published 1938 interview. “They took me at 9 years old and put me to work toting water to the field. They beat them [slaves] with bull whips, eight-plait cow-hide whips and they had wire plaited in the end of them. Punishment? Put them in stock…put them in jail Saturday night and keep them in all day Sunday and turn them out Monday morning to go to work.”
(It’s worth noting, that The Beguiled has encountered some controversy for the absence of any slave characters from its narrative. Both the novel that the movie is based on, as well as the previous film adaptation, features a slave in a prominent role. “I didn’t want to treat that character without respect and I felt if I made her a side character I wouldn’t be giving that subject the respect it deserves,” Coppola told Yahoo Movies in a recent interview.)
Destruction Averted During the Civil War
In The Beguiled, the Madewood plays the part of the Farnsworth Seminary for Young Ladies, which has so far managed to escape the destruction of the Civil War. Of course, the fighting has also left the home a shadow of its former self: the slaves who were forced to maintain it have fled, which means its once-privileged occupants now have to get their hands dirty toiling in its overgrown gardens and dilapidated structures.
The real Madewood avoided serious injury during the war, apparently thanks to some quick thinking on Eliza Foley’s part. As bayou legend goes, Pugh’s widow informed a Union general that he and her dead husband may have been on opposite sides of the conflict, but they did share one thing in common: Masonic membership. With that piece of information, the general kept his troops from looting the Madewood, although its lawns were used as a field hospital for Union troops. Eliza died in 1885, 20 years after the end of the Civil War, and the home passed through the hands of various other Pugh family members.
The Pughs Hold a Fire Sale
The Madewood makes an interesting appearance in Kathleen Langdon-Haven McInerney’s 2010 book, Dear Nell: The True Story of the Haven Sisters, an account of the life and times of two sisters, Fanny and Ellen Haven, as told through their personal correspondence. (Much of that correspondence can be viewed and downloaded on the book’s official site.) Born and raised in New York, Ellen left her East Coast life behind when she married David Pugh, son of Thomas Pugh, in 1859. The notes to a letter dated “December 5” of that year indicate that Ellen and David took up residence at the Madewood not long after they moved south.
Flash-forward to 1896, though, and Ellen has long since moved out. Ownership of the house has passed to Llewellyn Pugh, David’s nephew. In a letter from W.W. Pugh, Ellen is informed of a serious fire on the property that damaged the plantation’s sugarhouse. Pugh notes that “three Negroes” were arrested as suspected arsonists, but the evidence is cursory at best. In a footnote, McInerney provides more details about the fire, including the fact that it may have been set by one of the Pughs’ own relatives, who became a convicted arsonist later in life. Following that 1896 fire, Llewellyn Pugh sold Madewood to sugar magnate Leon Godchaux for $30,000.
And, with that, the Madewood officially passed out of the Pugh family’s hands. After changing ownership multiple times in ensuing decades, the house was eventually purchased by the Marshall family in 1964, which still owns and operates it to this day. It was formally declared at a National Historic Landmark in 1983.
I Drink Your ‘Lemonade’
Prior to The Beguiled cast and crew moving in, the Madewood had been the set of the 1978 TV movie, A Woman Called Moses, starring Cicely Tyson as Underground Railroad pioneer, Harriet Tubman. Nine years later, Beauty and the Beast director Bill Condon filmed parts of his debut feature, Sister Sister, there as well. That 1987 thriller featured Jennifer Jason Leigh and Judith Ivey as two sisters hiding a dark secret known only to a handsome — and mysterious — stranger (Eric Stoltz).
But the Madewood truly jumped to superstar status following its appearance in Beyoncé‘s acclaimed 2016 special, Lemonade. The house’s current owner, Keith Marshall, penned a first-person account that explained how the pop superstar brought her troupe to Louisiana for the top-secret shoot. “It’s a strange thing to have your home transformed into something else and to have little control over the final results,” he wrote, adding, “Unlike productions that film for days and weeks at a time, there was little imposition of new decor for the “Lemonade” filming. Still, rearrangement of furniture and accessories, as well as odd angles and digital manipulation of images, made us strain our eyes to be sure what we were seeing was our home.”
The star-packed Beguiled cast has been open about the fact that they were starstruck to be shooting on Beyoncé’s former stomping grounds. Elle Fanning even posted a photo to her Instagram account depicting herself and Kirsten Dunst draped over a Madewood chair, re-creating poses previously struck by Beyoncé and Serena Williams. “That chair that was there was the actual chair that Beyoncé and Serena were sitting in,” Fanning recently told Entertainment Weekly. “We were like ‘Okay, you’ll be Beyoncé, and I’ll be Serena, we have to re-create it.‘”
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