Colin Farrell fucks his way to freedom in this intoxicating remake of Don Siegel and Clint Eastwood’s 1971 Southern Gothic. Sofia Coppola’s version is faithful to the original, but adopts a more restrained tone, keeping the mood simmering rather than explosive.
Her decision shows far greater sympathy and understanding of the film’s female characters than Siegel’s version. Coppola recognises simple truths like the women’s loneliness and isolation from male company, particularly at a time of war, and acknowledges their natural lust with teasing humour.
Romance would be understandable if the wounded soldier they took in was a mere mortal, but this is Colin Farrell, seemingly ageing backwards and flourishing his incorrigible charm. He flips mood brilliantly, playing dumb, feeding compliments and raging desperately as he attempts to seduce his way out of this Southern oasis amidst the chaos of Civil War.
He is surpassed only by a delicious performance from Nicole Kidman as Martha, the headmistress of the girls’ school. Several of her facial expressions alone are better than entire films playing here.
If there’s one complaint to make it’s that Coppola doesn’t go for broke in ramping up the sexual warfare. Offering a more enlightened sexual politics than the original and retaining its hysterical energy don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
Otherwise, Coppola’s direction is faultless. She has a lot of fun with the women’s sexual jealousy, creating a wickedly entertaining, tempestuous atmosphere. Le Sourd’s photography casts jet-black silhouettes into nearly every frame, representing the dark pall of the Civil War, and Sarah Flack’s editing is also superb, finding the breaking points within the dialogue.
The Beguiled is great fun, but its script doesn’t push deep enough into the rich premise. Farrell, Fanning, Dunst, Kidman and Coppola have made a sickly sweet firecracker that fizzles out rather than explodes.
CAST: Kirsten Dunst, Nicole Kidman, Elle Fanning, Colin Farrell
DIRECTOR: Sofia Coppola
WRITERS: Sofia Coppola (screenplay), Thomas Cullinan (novel)
SYNOPSIS: At a girls’ school in Virginia during the Civil War, where the young women have been sheltered from the outside world, a wounded Union soldier is taken in. Soon, the house is taken over with sexual tension, rivalries, and an unexpected turn of events.