The Beguiled – 93 minutes.
Thomas P. Cullinan’s 1966 novel “A Painted Devil” first inspired Don Siegel (1971) to create the original The Beguiled, which starred Clint Eastwood and reportedly had ‘the plot of a porn film’.
I’ll wager Sofia Coppola’s version is vastly different!
The Beguiled is set in the historical period of the American Civil War and focuses on the problems caused by an inconvenient guest.
Colin Farrell plays Corporal John McBurney, recently arrived from Dublin and has hired himself out as a Union soldier for $300, is now wounded and has deserted his army rather than die. John says “smart” in preference to cowardice.
The film opens with an 11 year old child (Oona Laurence) stumbling across John in the woods as she is gathering mushrooms. She invites John back to Miss Farnsworth’s Seminary for Young Ladies, a school run by upright Christian, Martha Farnsworth (Nicole Kidman). Second in charge is teacher, Edwina (Kirsten Dunst) and there are five students in total, the eldest being 18 year old, Alicia (Elle Fanning).
Martha rules that ‘the Christian thing to do’ is to help John convalesce before turning him over to Conferderate troops.
Safely housed in a white-column mansion, John insinuates himself into everyone’s good graces, symbolising different things to each of the females.
For the younger girls, John is a courteous gentleman cum older brother; for bored, teenage-flesh-yearning Alicia, John represents a bad boy and the potential of sexual experience; for the delicate, ladylike Edwina, John represents the possibility of love and an escape from the seminary; and for strict and businesslike Martha, John is gentleman deference who inadvertently exposes Martha to her repressed sexuality.
With health improving and controlled but dangerous rivalries esalcating, John declares his love to Edwina.
In a twist however, Edwina finds John and Alicia intimately entangled. A struggle ensues, John falls two flights of stairs resulting in a severely broken leg which decisive Martha determines requires amputation.
John struggles coming to terms with the loss of his leg (screaming the women are “vengeful bitches!”), and the seminary inhabitants become increasingly fearful of John’s rage, which culminates in the final scenes which I will not spoil for you.
Whilst The Beguiled has received highly commendable reviews – Roger Ebert (rogerebert.com) attributes a rating of 3.5/4 and Peter Bradshaw (The Guardian) 4/5 – this film, although an aesthetic wonder encompassing both intensity and detachment (Coppola’s signature), will not be for everyone.
Appreciative yet unsatisfied, I give a rating of 2.5/5. You’ll be your own judge.