2017’s The Beguiled – based on Thomas P. Cullinan’s novel A Painted Devil, and the book’s second film adaptation – takes place three years into the American Civil War. A girls school is all but abandoned, with the headmistress, a teacher, and a few students remaining in hiding.
One of the girls, Amy (Oona Laurence) is out gathering mushrooms when she stumbles upon a wounded Union soldier (Colin Farrell) in the woods. She brings him back to the house and Miss Martha (Nicole Kidman) and Edwina (Kirsten Dunst) repair the wound in his leg and let him rest. Once he has regained a bit of his strength, he begins to befriend the women in the house, and help out a bit in the garden. Being the only man the women have come across in a while, there is an inevitable struggle for his affections, and tensions between the girls begin to mount. Who will Corporal John McBurney choose?
Once you get past the distraction of inconsistent accents, The Beguiled is an intriguing film. The changing dynamics within the household move the plot forward – albeit slowly – and there are a couple of genuinely suspenseful moments. Sofia Coppola is clearly in her element here, once again masterminding a film that’s an intimate exploration of female relationships.
However, moments of (perhaps unintentional?) humour distract from what’s essentially a heavy period drama suffused with Coppola’s default dreamy quality. Moreover, The Beguiled spends the first half establishing Farrell’s character as something of a wild card, but then procrastinates over whether it actually wants him to be a villain. Either way, the actor is wholly unconvincing as a lad in distress, and the film is carried by its otherwise capable female cast; Kidman does her fans proud, and young Aussie Angourie Rice’s star continues to rise.
You’ll probably enjoy The Beguiled more than this reviewer, who experienced it with a rowdy preview audience tanked on too many glasses of red.
In cinemas: July 13, 2017
Starring: Colin Farrell, Kirsten Dunst, Nicole Kidman
Directed by: Sofia Coppola