The Beguiled, 2017.
Directed by Sofia Coppola.
Starring Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Colin Farrell, Elle Fanning, Oona Laurence, Angourie Rice, Addison Riecke and Emma Howard.
The unexpected arrival of a wounded Union soldier at a girls’ school in Virginia during the American Civil War leads to jealousy and betrayal.
Having not seen the original 1971 film or read the source novel, I went into The Beguiled with zero expectations and was surprised at this gem of a film. 3 years into the American Civil War, a young girl called Amy (Laurence) is out searching for mushrooms when she stumbles across a wounded Union soldier called John McBurney (Farrell). She decides to take him back to her all-girls school run by Miss Martha (Kidman). At first all the women are infatuated with McBurney but events take a dark turn as his advances on the various women create an atmosphere of paranoia and hysteria.
The Beguiled is a claustrophobic and taught film from beginning to end. Set almost entirely within the school grounds and with constant sounds of war close by there is nowhere to run. The film is an examination of sexuality and repression. It’s fascinating to watch the women pandering to McBurney; wearing their best clothes, engaging him in conversation every chance they get and not seeing his manipulation at all. Farrell is phenomenal as McBurney; and he’s fully convincing as both the lothario and the rage fuelled man he is at the end. Farrell seems to be having a resurgence and is becoming an increasingly intriguing actor to watch.
The core cast of women also put in strong performances. Coppola regular Dunst plays the naïve Edwina spectacularly and Elle Fanning is pitch perfect as the young temptress Alicia. Nicole Kidman continues on her career high with another fantastic turn as Miss Martha. Simultaneously she’s conniving and strict whilst also vulnerable and easily seduced by McBurney. It’s yet another solid performance to add to the impressive list of work that she’s produced in the last 2 years.
On the surface there isn’t much happening during The Beguiled and it’s not packed full of plot; but this is what I enjoyed about it. It’s a simple story that transfixes you from beginning to end. As the cracks appear in McBurney’s seduction the tension ramps up until the inevitable happens. The final hanging shot of the women is haunting and one that will stick with you long after the film is over.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★