It has been a big summer for the ladies at the movies. Already this season, we have seen the success of Wonder Woman, the principal figure of girl power. In a few weeks, we will see Charlize Theron kick serious ass in Atomic Blonde. Here, we have a film directed by a woman, predominantly starring women, about a girl’s school hidden deep in the heart of the south during the Civil War. Today, we take a look at that film – The Beguiled.
The Beguiled tells a tale about a different sort of girl-power – one more pure, yet primal. It tells the story of how far one will go, despite being out of character, to protect themselves and those they care about from an underlying enemy. It also preaches about loyalty. The illusion society tends to create about the female sex, being “catty,” competitive and phony amongst themselves, is really phony in itself at its core. This movie does a great job of displaying this full-circle view of women, particularly women in the 1860s.
The film stars Nicole Kidman as Miss Martha, the primary caretaker of the girls in the school. Alongside her was Edwina, played by Kirsten Dunst, who served as a teacher/mentor to the younger girls. Among those younger girls was Alicia (Elle Fanning), who appears to be the oldest of the girls, and also the most outspoken.
Their lives are turned upside down when one of the girls discovers Corporal McBurney (Colin Farrell), a wounded Union solider lying injured on their grounds. The severely wounded Corporal takes refuge in the girl’s school, a school on enemy ground in Confederate territory. Despite this, Miss Martha decides to allow McBurney to stay in the house as she and the other girls bring him back to health.
Although immobile for quite some time, McBurney manages to be charming to all of his new caretakers. It is highly likely that many of the girls in the house have not seen a man in years, especially within this house. With that said, he begins to live the dream of millions of men – being the only man in a house full of women that are ready and willing to answer his every call. He quickly becomes the prized rooster in the hen house, so much so that it begins to create turmoil.
Throughout the film, you begin to see McBurney’s true manipulative colors. Colin Farrell does a superb job in this role of portraying his character’s subtle, yet cerebral tactics. He is a soldier, and although he is not on the battlefield engaging in hand-to-hand combat against his southern opposition, he still is at war in his mind and fighting for his survival.
Sexual tension arises and rivalries are formed in the fight for McBurney’s attention. He goes from a vulnerable, wounded victim to a lusted, forbidden fruit. Just like the story of Adam and Eve, once the forbidden fruit is had, all hell breaks loose.
On a side note, I realize you may be thinking, “Wait…I thought you said the movie preaches about loyalty, too?” Well, I have to leave you with something unknown to your imagination. I can’t tell you everything that happens. I also mentioned earlier about the film displaying a full-circle view of the emotions of the women, which you will just have to see for yourself.
The entire cast of The Beguiled did a great job of displaying their true emotions to the audience through the film. Nicole Kidman, in particular, is dynamite as usual. She has made some exceptional career choices as of late (most recently Lion, and the TV series Big Little Lies) and this role was tailor-made for her. Dunst also is superb in her role. In fact, one could argue that her character reflects true girl-power more than any of the others – she uses her intelligence and wisdom to teach the other girls, and she also winds up stepping up to the plate and sacrificing herself physically and emotionally for the greater good of the house. Elle Fanning portrayed her character perfectly as well as the young, hormone driven sex-kitten turned seductress.
With all that said, I still felt like there was something missing from this movie. It’s like when you taste something and you know it’s missing an ingredient to get it over the top, but you can’t put your finger on exactly what ingredient that is. Sofia Coppola draws a pretty sketch but fails to color it in. I like her vision, but I just don’t love it – and I really want to.
The movie is actually a remake of the original made in 1971, and without giving away specific details, I will say that there were things included in the original that were not built upon in this version that would have made the film sexier, more intense, and better overall. Unfortunately, I think Coppola failed to make this movie as dynamic as it could have been. The Beguiled is worth a view, but it definitely leaves some meat on the bone.
MATTER RATING: 6/10
OSCAR SCALE: 6/10 (Best Actress)
BY: CHRIS GUEST