Directed by Sofia Coppola and set during the American Civil War, The Beguiled is a slow-paced but intensely-told story of a group of women who reside in a seminary and trust each other to endure in difficult times because of their tight bond.
We being following young Amy (Oona Laurence) picking mushrooms in the woods outside a large, affluent home in the Southern states and discovering wounded soldier Corporal John McBurney (Colin Farrell) lying injured. She takes pity on the weary McBurney and helps him back to the house where we meet the rest of the young girls, plus Edwina (Kirsten Dunst) and Miss Martha (Nicole Kidman) who runs the school.
Between them all, they agree to help and provide him with a place to rest as they sew up his badly injured leg. Although these early moments are sincerely innocent and meant with the best ‘Christian’ intentions, it’s the beginnings of a shift in the power as sexual tension takes over, subtle rivalries arise and our characters begin to play each other off for their own benefits.
With some films, these moments could be the time when we see dramatic shifts in style and substance but Sofia Coppola’s focus remains low key, despite the growing high stakes. Their lives are altering but there’s no over-zealous loss of story, the key to the entire The Beguiled storyline is that of efficiency and the nature of protecting their own existence. That thought is especially prevalent due to the backdrop of the Civil War and the shifting world outside.
The cast is perfectly molded to their individual roles with Kidman and Dunst being exemplary as usual; it’s also backed up by the ever-impressive Elle Fanning alongside equally notable performances from the aforementioned Laurence plus Angourie Rice, Addison Riecke and Emma Howard. Farrell is effortless as the Corporal and plays his role as the smouldering, injured soldier impressively, so much so it’s easy to see why they’d be interested in him, considering the era and the unknown.
But The Beguiled isn’t some simple love story, it’s far from that, the overall nature reminded me of wild animals taking in an injured pup and trying to help. But, at the end of the day, the girls follow their natural instinct and do what it takes to survive. With Kidman’s Miss Martha, she brings a beautiful proficiency to events that take away any coldness and really highlights a desire to doing what it takes to get by in unsettled times. Never before has the line “Bring me the anatomy book” meant so much, and been so fiercely commanding.
While overall the film is occasionally a little laboured, it’s still a unique vision and visually moody, earthy and self-assured, much like the group of women who are the most important part to everything that happens throughout. They’re in control and if you’re in their house… efficiency is everything.
The Beguiled is available on Blu-ray and DVD from 20 November.