With Sofia Coppola behind the camera, the titular ‘beguiled’ in her latest film could be either of the opposing forces in the movie. This remake of a 1971 film of the same name that cast men in women in much more stark relief – and indeed with great institutional sexism – is more nuanced, complex, and satisfying.
The Beguiled finds a small southern school full of women towards the end of the American Civil War happens upon an injured northern soldier. The women total eight, and occupy a range of ages and attitudes; they include a pair of teachers (Nicole Kidman and Kirsten Dunst). The man is Colin Farrell, and he is both quite handsome and polite.
But you never know. Coppola allows the feelings, actions, and glances of the characters to dictate the changing moods, which mostly oscillate effortlessly between mystery and enchantment. The soldier is taken in, cared for, and confined to a bed. Perhaps he will bring more reinforcements, perhaps he will escape and reveal their location, and perhaps he, as a man, will overtake the women of the house.
Then again, he is a soldier for hire, so perhaps he has no true allegiances. And he has not known a woman in any sense in some time. The war is coming to an end and he may want to ride it out. Maybe he is enamoured.
All these possibilities exist as the women give in to their curiosity of this charming strangers. It’s a comedy of manners where looks and gestures and even the clearing of a throat is greatly hysterical. At the same time, The Beguiled has a darkness to it . While the original film cast the women as hysterical succubi, this one doesn’t have quite the same simplicity to either gender. Both the man and the women have base instincts they are dealing with, but that is not to say they don’t have other interests and agency either.
Among the females is teenager Alicia (Elle Fanning), who feels her heart aflutter, her powers of persuasion growing, and competition surrounding her. The younger girls don’t want sex, but they want attention. Kidman’s Miss Martha wants to keep her house safe, but isn’t’ above being charmed herself. Edwina (Dunst), meanwhile, is ready to start a life and family of her own.
The Beguiled, for all it’s laughter and tension, and at times terror, is breezy and beautiful. There is a game afoot so fascinating to watch, so devilishly delightful to take in. Well, perhaps not if you’re a man and prefer the simpler ways of the ‘71 films. These women here are layered, cunning, and human, making for a wonderfully captivating story.