The Beguiled is the latest film from celebrated director Sofia Coppola and is based on the novel of the same name (originally published as A Painted Devil) by Thomas P. Cullinan. The novel previously inspired a 1971 adaptation starring Clint Eastwood. The cast includes Academy Award winner Nicole Kidman, Colin Farrell, Kirsten Dunst, and Elle Fanning. The story of The Beguiled follows an event in the lives of an academy of girls led by Martha Farnsworth (Kidman) in 1863 during the American Civil War. One day when one of the students, Amy (Oona Laurence), is collecting mushrooms for the household she happens across a wounded Yankee soldier by the name of John McBurney (Farrell). Feeling pity for him, Amy brings him back, half-conscious, to the homestead where he is taken in to recover from his wounds. From there his charm, wit, and primal allure make him the fantasy of all the girls within the academy but events unfold in a way none of them could have foreseen.
The Beguiled has several notable elements going for it. The first and most prevalent part of The Beguiled is the incredible cast of characters brought to life by the great cast. Not a single actor drops the ball, and it’s impressive when several of the cast are likely under the age of 15. One of the notable highlights is Kirsten Dunst’s Edwina who delivers a powerful performance as a fragile soul going through the motions with a group of people she has no genuine connection with. She sees a means of escape with John and hopes to escape the terrible life she has been dealt.
Colin Farrell also gives a wonderfully nuanced performance as John McBurney the soldier that ingratiates himself with his de facto rescuers. His charm comes off as genuine, and he oozes allure easily selling to the audience that he is possibly the most eventful thing to happen to these women in their lives. Unfortunately, there is also something else he oozes, and it is something darker. You’re not quite sure what it is, but there is a constant sense of unease as he bewitches all of the women. And this sense of tension permeates throughout the entirety of The Beguiled and adds another level of suspense to the narrative that culminates in a powerful climax to the film.
One of the best elements of The Beguiled is the cinematography; there is a warm hue to film that draws the audience in and is all the more thrilling as the characters spiral more and more out of control in the latter half of the movie. There are problems with The Beguiled in particular the direction of the story. There is a level of predictability which means that a lot of the twists and turns of the film feel telegraphed and lose some of their impact.
The Beguiled is an intimate and bewitching tale of love, lust, and betrayal with a cast that brings down the house with their subtle but powerful performances but a level of predictability keeps it from perfection.