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The Beguiled (A Movie Review)

Updated: Mar 18, 2020

The Beguiled


Starring Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning, Oona Laurence, Angourie Rice, Addison Reicke, Wayne Peré, Emma Howard, Matt Story, Joel Albin and Eric Ian.

Screenplay by Sofia Coppola.

Directed by Sofia Coppola.

Distributed by Focus Features. 94 minutes. Rated R.

The lush foliage of the Virginia countryside is as much a character as a setting in Sofia Coppola’s sublime new film, The Beguiled. Separating the girls’ boarding school at the center of the film’s action from the Civil War in the distance, it is easy for the girls and their teacher (Kirsten Dunst) and headmistress (Nicole Kidman) to hide from the grisly combat. Just the sounds and smoke of cannon fire can be heard and seen from afar. It is within this wild land outside the school, where color is moist with dew and fluttering sunlight, that the world of teacher and pupil shifts.

One of the girls, Amy (Oona Laurence), wanders through the greens in search of decomposing delights — mushrooms. This unexpected journey reveals a Union soldier (Colin Farrell) beginning to decompose with an injured leg. Helped back to the school, the enemy — both male and Northerner — is greeted with shock and awe of the unknown (especially desire) by students and adults alike.

It is this desire that drives the girls and women as well as the man. Kidman’s Martha washes Farrell’s Corporal’s sleeping body after she stitches him up. With hints of eroticism, she holds back. It not just men who desire when away at war; women want too. The oldest student is Alicia (Elle Fanning), a teenager who is ripe for more than school. Farrell’s first move, while on his back during his recovery, is to grab at Fanning’s dress while she steals a glance. This grab turns into goodnight kisses that Fanning gives to a seemingly comatose Farrell. Again, the female is in command of the desire.

This command is shifted when Farrell courts the more age-appropriate Edwina, played by Dunst. He flatters her and seems to suggest deeper desire to her. When he is strong enough to walk and work the garden, as he wants to do, trimming bushes and working the roses and other plant life, Coppola has planted his desire firmly in the now — he wants to shape the women and girls as he pleases.

The lavish dinner for him and the lust, emasculation and horror that results makes for a mirror film where he now is in control of his desires and seemingly the desires of all the characters in the school. Where there was humor in the double entendres earlier within flirtations and subtle actions, there is now fear and only stark truths of male rage and domination.

Based on Thomas Cullinan’s 1966 novel and the screenplay of the 1971 film adaptation, Coppola’s version diverges in content, unfolding plainly, without extra narration or backstory while cutting. Coppola’s The Beguiled is a glorious feminist cautionary tale that reminds the viewer that the big bad wolf is in plain sight. The cast is superb, with Kidman, Dunst, Farrell and Fanning filling their period garb with expert authenticity. Philippe Le Sourd’s cinematography is gorgeous, relying on natural light while using a creamy color palette. Phoenix’s score is another integral link between the characters, the story and the viewer.

The characters and viewer are truly beguiled: charmed, but with a sour taste of deception at its core. Coppola unspools a parable of charity, desire and evil with stunning brevity (a 93-minute runtime) that displays an artist at the height of her powers.

Chris Sikich

Copyright ©2017 All rights reserved. Posted: June 30, 2017.

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