|Courtesy of Focus Features|
Colin Farrell portrays the (un)lucky Cpl. John McBurney who is found by one of Miss Martha's (Nicole Kidman) young girls while she picks some wild mushrooms. Miss Martha decides to heal John before letting him be picked up by the Confederates as an enemy combatant. As a "most intrusive" guest to the house holed up in the music room of the estate, simple little flirtations and adoration begin to permeate the stale Southern air.
Teacher Edwina (Kirsten Dunst) and Alicia (Elle Fanning) are the most forward in their advances, but for Edwina it's to contradict loneliness and sees John as an escape. Alicia is just a teenager bursting with a raging libido.The infatuation with John boils over after he's seen having sex with one of the women, which doesn't present resentment among them as much as it creates a now horrifically graphic encounter that leaves the women susceptible to an uncontrollable man.
"The Beguiled" reminded me of the Australian film "Picnic at Hanging Rock", another film about sexually repressed school girls. Unlike that ambiguous staple of outback cinema, "The Beguiled" brings sex to the forefront and provides enough satisfying cathartic foreplay that you can't wait for the main event.
With its colorful female-driven cast "The Beguiled" can easily be written off as a pro-woman, feminist-laden vehicle. Not so. What writer/director Sofia Coppola offers is a movie about women who are merely trying to take care of themselves in a time where women probably weren't left to live alone as the ones in the movie are. They cook, clean, are educated, learn French, know how to knit and sew and play the piano. What was never taught to them was how to stand up for themselves and be strong against enemies. Lead by the mild mannered, yet affirmative, Miss Martha, these are women who are able to think clearly and in a way that protects themselves. Motives to destroy crazy men is not what the women sort out to do, unlike what was perceived to in the film's awful trailer. The point of "The Beguiled", a universally adaptable story, is on dealing with an unwanted intrusion occupant and how to deal with it. This movie, adapted from its source material, just happens to have women as the focus. It's not a battle of the sexes tale to prove that women can hold their own. Why ever should we believe that they never could?
Just as important at understanding the main players of "The Beguiled" is the impeccably designed area the story is set in. The rhythmic booms of cannons are fired nearby as the lowly plantation sits seemingly isolated by any sign of habitation. Already the place looks ravaged by the ghosts of the Civil War when actually it's the dying dreams of a fruitful life left by the inhabitants of the seminary. Will they ever get out? Will they ever want to? One young girl is routinely seen at sundown standing on the estate's top porch looking out for troops who may be coming by to steal from their garden. I think she's looking beyond that, a far off place where she isn't linked to being a holed-up woman trapped in her own gorgeous prison. With the sweltering summer humidity permeating the frame during the daytime, a claustrophobic "Barry Lyndon"-esque candlelit evening awaits. Even as the methodically-paced film moves on, you can always be swept up in its beauty to pass the time.
"The Beguiled" is a straightforward, lush, wickedly sharp film that constrains itself to a certain place and time and doesn't stray from it. This is what storytelling really is.