A remake of the 1971 Clint Eastwood film starring Colin Farrell, “Beguiled” is atmoshperic and Freudian,and a tad silly. Kirsten Dunst’s character is the least plausible. Why would a woman, who wishes to escape her claustrophobic five-student classroom, not act out when her lover is poisoned before they can run Westward Ho? Edwina (Dunst) was emotional enough when she pushed him down the staircase, emotional enough when he ripped her bodice of its pearl buttons. Can this lonely soul just sew his shroud without any retribution or outcry ?
“Character development” this critic screams, again for Colin Farrell, our Union mercenary of Irish origin, Corporal John McBurney. He is a wounded “player”, who plays all seven females, no matter their age with flattery and teasing unctuousness. He is not unlikeable, just into self-preservation and self-gratification. The women/girls are all beguiled as shown in a wonderful table scene where each try to compete for his favor.
The eleven-year-old mushroom picker, Amy, portrayed beautifully by Oona Laurence, is a picture of braided hair and sweetness as the apron-clad rescuer. Amy helps the leg-wounded corporal hobble to The Farnsworth Seminary for Young Ladies, where he is treated and allowed to convalesce instead of taken to a Confederate prison camp. The young Amy introduces him to her classmates: the musical Jane ( Angourie Rice), the bright Marie (Addison Riecke), the playful yet solicitous, Emily (Emma Howard), and the lusty coquette, Alicia ( Elle Fanning).
Headmistress Miss Martha Farnsworth (Nicole Kidman) takes full charge. She is herself charmed by McBurney. One of the funniest lines,however, comes out of her mouth as she tells teacher Edwina to bring the saw and the anatomy book. Fear and prayer mix with suspense to create an odd tone here. Miss Martha feels driven to act. She asks for suggestions, and the girls by in.
The cinematography is pretty: all haze, Spanish moss, and wild garden. The school’s antebellum splendor is punctuated with six huge Ionic columns – all fluted and more welcoming than the monstrous, filigreed, iron gate. Shots of girls playing at the water pump, hoeing lackadaisically, hanging frocks on the clothesline, and singing in the candlelit music room are lovely. Director Sofia Coppola has an eye for the scene be it French lessons or firelight brandies. For me, Coppola elicited the mushroom picker in Truffaut’s film “The Wild Child”. Six Ionic columns with their staunch flutes seem to hold this edifice aloft. The females under Ms. Martha ultimately do the same.
1864 Virginia has these Southern belles calling the Union soldiers “blue bellies” and vocalizing that their charge could be dangerous. Rape and rapine are both feared. McBurney says that he is pleased to be a prisoner. This soon changes as he lay on their fainting couch. The sounds of water splashing and cloth being rung out, and the in and out of breath, soft hummings and giggles and window peerings set the stage, and remind us of the quiet of this century. Birdsong and cannon booms mingle. Cicadas win out, and rise again.
The corporal has lines galore: ” Tell me a little about yourself? I have never come across such delicate beauty.” If the roses and flowers of this school need trimming, he sharpens his tool to assist. “I have missed being with you”, our wounded soldier whispers to Edwina. He is found in Alicia’s bed before his words evaporate. McBurney’s leg is re-mangled when Edwina pushes him down the stairs. Once he awakens to his fate he screams the question: “Are you ladies learning about castration?” He shoots down a crystal chandelier in his fury, yet Colin Farrell does not seem like a real threat. The women are in control. As they wait under the Ionic facade, for the Confederate soldiers to take the body away, we wonder why they needed to tie the help sign around the iron gate. The women have this!