This second film version of Thomas Cullinan’s 1966 US civil war novel The Beguiled – in which a wounded Union soldier is taken into a southern girls’ academy – is a somewhat different take on the material than the first version, which starred Clint Eastwood and Geraldine Page, and was directed by Don Siegel. Here, director Sophia Copolla focuses more on the women than the lone male protagonist, giving us a film that subverts its subject matter.
John McBurney (Colin Farrell), an army corporal who was wounded in the leg and has deserted the battlefield, is found in the woods by Amy (Oona Laurence), one of the students at the School for Young Ladies run by Martha Farnsworth (Nicole Kidman). She brings McBurney to the school where Miss Farnsworth tends to his wounds. Being a rather dashing and handsome Irish chap, fairly soon all the other women and girls are vying for his attentions.
Coppola, who I tend to find a bit hit and miss as a director (I loved The Virgin Suicides, Lost in Translation and The Bling Ring; Marie Antoinette and Somewhere, not so much), has made a sumptuous, languid film, filled with muted colours and reserved manners – all underscored with smoldering sensuality. The cast she has assembled is superb, wonderfully led by headmistress Kidman and Kirsten Dunst as schoolmarm Edwina. But there's great work too from the younger players, notably Laurence, Elle Fanning and rising Aussie star Angourie Rice. The film takes its somewhat sexit source material and flips it, making Farrell's wounded soldier a mere sex object.
At the end of the day, despite all the hard work of the cast and director, it all feels a little lightweight. It's a solid period piece, and it's far from a bad film, but it just doesn't quite have "must-see" written all over it.
EXTRAS: Just two short behind-the-scenes featurettes: A Shift in Perspective (6:53); and A Southern Style (5:40).