Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Nicole Kidman, Colin Farrell, Elle Fanning
Director: Sofia Coppola
In Virginia during the American Civil War, a young girl finds a wounded Union soldier and takes him back to the school where she is living with two teachers and a few remaining students. His presence effects the school in different ways, and he tries to use his advantage and play them off against each other to his own benefit. But while he thinks he’s in control as he toys with the vulnerable women and girls, he doesn’t count on there being consequences for his actions.
The Beguiled is a remake of a film from the 70’s that has been reviled for years for it’s misogynous portrayal of the women in the story. But with Sofia Coppola at the helm, it feels like something quite different. Personally, I love the aesthetic of Coppola’s films. Here we see the soft visuals and evocation of another time and place that she does so beautifully. The female characters, in their soft pastel shades and pale hair and skin, feel wispy and delicate. But they’re tough in holding out against soldiers who routinely steal their food and supplies, and head teacher Miss Martha does her best to keep classes and routines going, and to protect the women in her care. In this environment, Corporal McBurney (Farrell) comes off as a bit of a psychopath, as he manipulates, seduces, and lies to gain control of this vulnerable colony of women. And later in the film, when the truth comes out, he shows that he’s a violent and vile snake that they’ve nursed to health in their home.
It’s a really well cast film. Kidman feels fragile but also tough. Long time collaborator Dunst seems yearning and romantic. Farrell is believable as a charmer, someone a girl might trust and fall for, but who might have another side to him. Fanning is kind of wilfully young and earnest. Each person in this film has their own characterisation and desires.
The films tension is not so much that the women are jealous of each other and want the man’s attention, though there is that too, but rather that he’s given them all to think that they’re his special favourite, and he uses their confidences to him against them. It works really well, and as he abuses his power over them, you start to look forward more and more to his comeuppance.
I loved sinking into the world of this film. And whilst I found the girls could sometimes be sweetly funny, or tragic, and the film’s story is unsettling, I really enjoyed this film.
See It If: Sofia Coppola fans will love this film. It’s an unusual story, should please drama or thriller fans and those who love costume dramas with bite.