July 5, 2017

The Beguiled: Southern Belles Are Charmed by a Union Soldier

The Beguiled is a Civil War story based on the bestseller of the same name by the late novelist/playwright Thomas Cullinan (1919-1995). The book was first adapted to the screen in 1971 as a melodramatic film that starred Clint Eastwood. This year’s remake was directed by Sofia Coppola whose effort was rewarded at Cannes when she became the second woman in the history of the festival to be chosen Best Director.

The story is set in 1864 at a Virginia boarding school for girls run by Martha Farnsworth (Nicole Kidman) with the help of Edwina Dabney (Kirsten Dunst). They have five students under their care, ranging from preteens to the late teens.

As the movie opens, the sounds of battle are heard in the distance. The fighting is in sharp contrast to the serenity of the campus where we see Amy (Oona Laurence) foraging in the forest for wild mushrooms. 

She stumbles upon a wounded Union soldier who is hiding in the woods. Corporal John McBurney (Colin Farrell) had been wounded by a bullet in his leg. Instinctively, Amy brings him back to the school where she is criticized by an older classmate (Angourie Rice) for rescuing a “dangerous enemy.”

After telling John that “You are a most unwelcome visitor,” the ordinarily icy headmistress inexplicably allows the wounded soldier to remain on the premises and does not inform the Confederate army of his presence.

Martha takes charge of nursing their guest back to health, and soon finds herself developing feelings for John. However, the corporal proves to be quite the Casanova, knowing just the right words to charm each of the females at the school in turn.

Of course, eventually everyone finds out about his duplicity, and the spell is broken. And after the heartbroken women decided what to do, the corporal probably wished that he had surrendered to the Rebels.

Excellent (****). Rated R for sexuality. Running time: 93 minutes. Production Studio: American Zoetrope. Distributor: Focus Features.