Release date: 14th July 2017/Watch the trailer here
A Sofia Coppola-directed remake of a 1971 film starring Clint Eastwood, The Beguiled is set almost entirely within the confines of a girls school in Virginia during the American Civil War. The year is 1864 and almost everyone at the school has left, with just five students and one teacher remaining alongside the headmistress, Martha Farnsworth (Nicole Kidman). However, the women’s quiet existence is disturbed when one of the young students, Amy (Oona Laurence), stumbles upon a wounded Union soldier, Corporal John McBurney (Colin Farrell), while out in the nearby woods.
The arrival of McBurney immediately causes tension within the school, with some wanting him to be delivered as a prisoner of war to the Confederate Army, while others – such as the teacher, Edwina Morrow (Kirsten Dunst), and an older student, Alicia (Elle Fanning) – find themselves fascinated by the handsome stranger.
What follows is an uneasy culmination of building sexual tension and a subtle rivalry between the seven women. If nothing else, Coppola has masterfully crafted an atmosphere of quiet suspense that consumes both her characters and audience alike for the entirety of The Beguiled. It’s a slow-burn film for the most part, yet this atmosphere ensures that it is constantly gripping throughout, until it ends with a finale that feels like a worthy climax to the simmering hysteria threatening to spill over.
The Beguiled is also an absolutely stunning film to look at: from the setting, which is somehow both beautiful and unnervingly claustrophobic, to the impeccably-designed period costumes; all filmed in a manner that feels suitably old-fashioned yet still fresh and modern. The cast, too, are on fine form here: Farrell gives a performance that constantly leaves you wondering whether he’s a good person or possibly someone much more sinister (or perhaps he’s both), and while Kidman, Dunst and Fanning are as wonderful as ever, all of the women in the cast shine best when they’re working as an ensemble.
Yet for all of its strengths, there is something lacking from The Beguiled, yet it’s difficult to put your finger on what exactly that something is. On the surface, The Beguiled gets almost everything right, but there’s really very little to be found beneath its attractive exterior that will make it particularly memorable in years to come. With such a story, Coppola had ample opportunity to inject it with a little depth and substance, but she appears to have eschewed doing so in favour of a competently-made, but very simple psychosexual thriller – and while it keeps you guessing until the moment that the credits roll, it’s never quite as thrilling as you hoped it would be.