Sophia Coppola’s spellbinding remake of “The Beguiled” opens in 1864 Virginia. Amy (an excellent Oona Laurence) finds Yankee Corporal John McBurney (Colin Farrell) wounded beside a tree. She takes him back to the Seminary for Young Ladies, run by Martha Farnsworth (Nicole Kidman). It is there where the pinched schoolmarm Edwina Dabney (Kirsten Dunst) teaches five young girls, including the coquettish teen Alicia (Elle Fanning).
While McBurney has his eye on all of the ladies, the polite women are all watching each other. “The Beguiled” may seem like a fox-in-a-henhouse story —with McBurney ogling and getting ogled — but it soon becomes a sinister comedy of manners.
The ladies’ Southern hospitality quickly turns hostile. As the women’s repressed (and not-so-repressed) passions ignite, issues of truth and trust, sin and shame, jealousy and desire come to light.
Coppola’s film, a delicious feminist morality play, is a real slow burn. Its hothouse Southern Gothic atmosphere is seductive and engrossing as the power games play out among the characters.
“The Beguiled” is also beautifully crafted. The many candlelit scenes create a real sense of intimacy, and the exquisite costumes reveal much about the characters.
The performances by the entire ensemble cast are uniformly superb. Kidman, Dunst and Fanning all convey their characters’ internal thoughts with such precise expressions and body language, viewers will know exactly what they are thinking. And Farrell imbues McBurney with enough entitlement to make his not-unexpected come-uppance all the more satisfying.
“The Beguiled” is, indeed, bewitching.
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