Directed by: Sofia Coppola
Written by: Sofia Coppola
Starring: Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning
As much as men may believe their charm allows them to get away with playing with the emotions of women, The Beguiled serves as a classic reminder of the opposite. Beautifully decorated and boasting a magnificent cast allows this steamy film to light up the darkest crevices of this Civil War-era school.
Due to most students having to leave because of the Civil War, only two teachers and a few students remain at this Virginia school. They’re led by Miss Martha Farnsworth (Nicole Kidman). One day, while collecting mushrooms, one of the students finds an injured Union soldier named John McBurney (Colin Farrell). He’s brought back to the house where Farnsworth tends to his wounds before the women decide if they should alert the Confederate army of their new discovery. As these deliberations proceed, McBurney begins to make himself acquainted with the other women.
Set with the backdrop of the war and the gorgeous house that serves as the school, The Beguiled becomes alluring because this iteration of the story looks at the film through the eyes of the women rather than the man. An intentional decision by writer/director Sofia Coppola and it pays dividends in the horrific and satisfying moments this film delivers. I’m usually 50/50 with the works of Coppola, but when she’s good she delivers tremendous work. This film can be added to Lost in Translation and The Virgin Suicides as her working at the highest level. Everything about The Beguiled shows strong attention to detail with visuals that expand the story. It can be seen in the deliberate choice of clothing of the women and the furniture placement of each room. It all has a purpose and pushes the story forward.
The cast brought together for the film is tremendous with Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Colin Farrell, and Elle Fanning, as they all portray characters that learn a lesson throughout this unexpected experience. Kidman’s Farnsworth must maintain the integrity of their beliefs by tending to the wounds of McBurney, while also attempting to navigate the reality of a Union soldier being housed and cared for in a school located in Confederate territory. It only makes it worse that McBurney is portrayed by Colin Farrell and knows he can use his looks to get things going for him. The women have not seen a man for a good amount of time and his appearance begins to stir the pot with most of them.
It results in a flurry of attraction and a release of pent-up desire that has been on the minds of all of them. The film’s commentary lies with how McBurney attempts to navigate the school and what causes his true character to make an appearance. He begins by being afraid of the women alerting the Confederate Army and having him be taken away. Once he realizes he’s relatively safe, he begins to make his moves towards multiple women of the school in a destructive way. What appears to be a handsome and sweet man in the exterior reveals an ugly soul on the inside, but these women are not having it. His attempts to get one over on them causes him to find himself in some precarious situations.
The commentary works on the narrative level, but also the visual. There’s the classic romantic set up of a woman tending to the wounds of a man and they happen to be dressed mainly in white, which typically indicates purity. Something McBurney tries to work with to get his way. That visual language begins to alter towards the climax and the conclusion bares it for all to see with the way the women unify against a common enemy.
The Beguiled takes us back to a precarious time for a group of young women and demonstrates a resiliency that serves as a shield for all of the madness occurring around them. Coppola intentionally uses charged language in the way McBurney speaks to the women that has strong resonance today, which shows that her adaptation in making this story more modern is a complete success. It comes from the visual cues and the moments where certain language and actions from this man would not be tolerated and the results are deeply satisfying.