The sudden arrival of an injured Union soldier at a southern girls’ boarding school in Virginia during the American Civil War leads to an entertaining turn of events, including sex, betrayal, and jealousy. Corporal John McBurney (Colin Farrell) is that Union soldier, and he finds himself a convict and on the run from the Union Army as a deserter in the 1860s. Seeking refuge and urgent medical help, the women of the Southern boarding school seem all too eager to assist him in his affairs. However, it does not take long for rivalries and agendas to take precedence, as numerous members of this educational institution try to offer him comfort, companionship and other things.
Written and directed by a woman (Sofia Coppola) and starring women in strong female roles, this is certainly the next addition in 2017’s lineup of empowering films about women and arguably feminist ones. And this is one of the better remakes of recent times. I say better, I mean truly excellent. Based on the novel of the same name by Thomas Cullinan / the 1971 screenplay by Albert Maltz and Irene Kamp from the picture of the same name directed by Don Miguel (starring Clint Eastwood), Sofia Coppola’s new film could be a period classic in the years to come. From the acting performances to the cinematography to the casting, The Beguiled is a fierce but elegant.
Found quivering in the woods by ‘Miss Amy’ (Pete’s Dragon’s Oona Laurence), he sweet-talks her into helping him get to the nearby school, her school. Principal Martha (Nicole Kidman) and her second, Edwina (Kirsten Dunst), are annoyed by his condition. It’s an inconvenience. But they’re Christian ladies in the South. They have to help him, or so their hearts tell them. Fate has given them this chance to show this foreigner Southern, Christian charity. And just because there’s a war on, that doesn’t necessarily mean that every person in the vast landscape of the South should kill all Union men on sight. And it’s these acts of humanity that dropped in titbits throughout the film.
These female leads, include Elle Fanning (20th Century Women), Nicole Kidman (Lion) and Kirsten Dunst (Fargo), with Angourie Rice (Nice Guys) and Addison Riecke (The Thundermans): Edwina (Dunst), Martha (Kidman) and Alicia (Fanning) are depicted as objects of desire from the viewpoint of McBurney. But that feeling is reciprocated. And the dangers of war are pushed aside when a very real threat is thrust upon their doorstep, a danger that has the ability to pit these characters against each other through one of the most volatile things ever created, the human heart (love). Love has killed more than any disease, and will kill again, The Beguiled repetitively proves that.
When Martha decides not to turn McBurney over to the Confederate soldiers, the school is excited. And subsequently allows him to work the garden when he’s back to health, bringing in admirers from every nook and cranny, as well as being watched from over hedges and behind shrubs. He’s a deviant, but they don’t know that. He manipulates, even the children like Miss Amy (Oona Laurence). And there’s lots of entertainment value in the dinners and musical performance, that may begin to rival the Granthams at Downton with their Turkish Fiasco early on in the series. This may be America, but there are just as many zingers as any, great, English, period costume drama.
We have a scintillating staircase sequence. There’s sprawling beads from a yanked necklace. Gunfire floors a chandelier. And we have many elements of black comedy, much of it from Kidman’s expert comedic timing. “Bring me the anatomy book” she says. In the next moment we can find McBurney saying: “What have you done to me, you vengeful bitches?” It’s dialogue like this that left me with a ruptured spleen. “Vengeful bitches” maybe a little on the nose, but it’s so southern, regardless if it’s being said by Colin Farrell in his native Northern Irish accent. “Would you cay-uh for a digestif, corporal?” left me with tears streaming down, great dialogue indeed.
The Beguiled is very Daphne du Maurier, and if they were to remake Rebecca, I’d go as far as to cast Nicole Kidman as Mrs Danvers without an audition. No actress (or actor) puts a foot wrong. The sets are beautiful and the execution is on point. The Beguiled is in my top ten films of the year and I believe there it will stay for what is left of what has already been a good year for arts and culture indeed.