The Beguiled
dir-scr Sofia Coppola
prd Youree Henley, Sofia Coppola
with Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning, Oona Laurence, Angourie Rice, Addison Riecke, Emma Howard, Wayne Pere, Matt Story, Joel Albin
release US 23.Jun.17, UK 14.Jul.17
17/US Focus 1h33
The Beguiled
Cat among the pigeons: Farrell and Fanning

kidman dunst rice
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
The Beguiled Sofia Coppola's movies feel effortless and aimless, but there's always a gripping undercurrent in them that sparks the imagination. Here, she remakes the 1971 movie (based on Thomas Cullinan's 1966 novel) with a tilt toward the female point of view. The result is a gothic thriller soaked in twisted emotional resonance. It's dark and intensely involving, cleverly playing with ideas of feminine vulnerability and power.

In 1864 Virginia, injured Union corporal John (Farrell) is discovered in the woods by young Amy (Laurence), who takes him back to her girls' school in an isolated plantation. Teachers Martha and Edwina (Kidman and Dunst) and fellow students Alicia, Jane, Marie and Emily (Fanning, Rice, Riecke and Howard) are fascinated by this man, as all of their male relatives are either dead or away fighting. As they flirt with him in individualistic ways, John considers staying on as a handyman. But he seems unaware of the jealousies he is sparking.

Coppola films in low light filtered through a canopy of trees, which makes the location feel like it's in a secret oasis, cloistered from the world. Only occasionally visited by passing soldiers, these women get on with their lives without help from men, and now that one has been dropped into their midst, they're all rather flustered. It may seem like he has the pick of the litter, as it were, but they're not nearly as powerless as he thinks. And the cast beautifully underplays everything.

Kidman anchors the film as the stern headmistress unsettled by her own growing lusts, contrasted against Dunst's more earnest romantic notions as the insecure Edwina and Fanning's more overt coquetry as the naive Alicia. Laurence and Rice also register strongly as younger girls with forceful personalities, while Riecke and Howard remain mainly in the background. In the middle of this, Farrell is brooding and enticing, oozing sexuality without realising what he's doing.

As the thin plot becomes downright creepy, powerful ideas linger in every scene. These are mainly expressed in glances or pauses, as these women carefully strike a variety of poses to reveal their unity and isolation, piety and lust. So while they manoeuvre to catch the colonel's attention, they know they're playing with fire. The film is exploring how this most basic of human needs clashes with the strictures of both religion and society, pointedly at a time when civilisation has been brought to its knees by war. It's a fiendishly clever approach that quietly gets under the skin.

cert 15 themes, violence, sexuality 23.Jul.17

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© 2017 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall