The Beguiled

By Angie Raphael

4 stars

This feminist remake of the macho 1971 film starring Clint Eastwood, which was adapted from Thomas P. Cullinan's 1966 novel originally titled The Painted Devil, is dramatic but also funny in a real-life way. The Beguiled is set during the United States civil war. A group of girls living at a boarding school are sheltered from the outside world until Amy (Oona Laurence) finds wounded union soldier John McBurney (Colin Farrell). Martha Farnsworth (Nicole Kidman), who runs the school, agrees to care for John until he is well enough to leave. He soon starts to build a relationship with each female in the house, including lonely teacher Edwina (Kirsten Dunst) and flirty teenager Alicia (Elle Fanning), resulting in sexual tension and rivalries. 

Writer/director Sofia Coppola offers a version of the story that is a lot simpler, focussing more heavily on the women and removing other sub-plots that were in the novel. She also takes a light-hearted approach to the drama of the situation, poking fun at the way the females suddenly dress in their best clothes and throw themselves at the first handsome man they have seen in years. The use of natural light and shadows was also effective in setting the tone. All the females are great in their respective roles but Kidman, Fanning and Dunst are especially strong, while Farrell also has some particularly memorable moments. The story could have been presented in a way that demonised women as competitive and jealous, but Coppola has made it far more empowering for female audiences and leaves a good moral lesson for everyone.