The Beguiled

Rarely has the Deep South during the Civil War looked as resplendent as in The Beguiled, even with a chorus of cannon fire echoing in the background.

While the 1971 film of the same name really didn’t need a refreshing, this stylish remake from director Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation) cleverly frames the material as a tale of feminist resilience and resourcefulness with contemporary resonance.

While women weren’t allowed on the front lines, there was a more low-key battle of wits being waged inside a rural boarding school in Virginia, where a precocious young student (Oona Laurence) finds a wounded Union soldier named McBurney (Colin Farrell) clinging to life in the woods.

The youngster instinctively brings him inside the fenced-off schoolhouse, where her sheltered classmates react with varying degrees of skepticism along with their stern headmaster, Martha (Nicole Kidman), and their teacher, Edwina (Kirsten Dunst).

Reluctantly, Martha nurses him back to health while deciding whether to share news of his capture to the Confederate troops. As his health gradually improves, so does the quiet attraction between McBurney and Edwina, along with the curiosity of oldest student Alicia (Elle Fanning).

The film is a dazzling technical achievement, featuring evocative period sets and costumes complemented by a haunting music score that helps to heighten the suspense.

The performances are solid even if the Southern accents are uneven, with the women often conveying emotion through body language and subtle glances. Meanwhile, Farrell struggles to match the subtle intensity that Clint Eastwood brought to the same role almost a half-century ago.

The central moral dilemma breeds some intriguing character dynamics as the women ponder the bedridden interloper’s background and motives, which are left open for interpretation to the audience, as well. Martha, of course, is the primary voice of dissent. “You’re not a guest here,” she bluntly tells him. “You’re a most unwelcome visitor.”

Yet Coppola emphasizes mood and atmosphere more than dialogue. The deliberately paced melodrama is restricted almost entirely to a single setting, where the muted sexual tension gradually intensifies, then boils over in the final act.

While the subsequent twists feel tame and the cumulative effect is more muddled, there are some scattered moments of raw emotional power along the way. Appropriately enough, this version of The Beguiled serves as a beguiling companion piece to Don Siegel’s often overlooked original.


Rated R, 93 minutes.