Fresh off of her history-making Best Director win at this year's Cannes Film Festival, Sofia Coppola is back on the scene with the release of her latest directorial effort The Beguiled, a remake of Don Siegel's 1971 film of the same name starring Clint Eastwood.
With a stellar cast that includes Nicole Kidman, frequent muse Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning, and Colin Farrell, Coppola creates a small but hypnotic glimpse into what life was like for a group of women in the Confederate South, and it's this perspective that sets the film apart (in leaps and bounds) from its predecessor, giving a story set over 150 years ago a fresh, modern perspective that we can't take our eyes off of.
Warning! Some The Beguiled spoilers ahead!
At the beginning of The Beguiled, we meet Corporal John McBurney (Colin Farrell), a wounded Union Army soldier of Irish descent that just deserted his post in battle during the Civil War. After charming his way into her household via one of her young students, he is taken under the care of Miss Martha Farnsworth (Nicole Kidman), the headmaster of an all-girls boarding school in Virginia. Though the situation was somewhat pleasant at first (everyone in the school seems perfectly fine with the idea of having a good-looking, strapping gentleman make a presence in the house), things turn sour (and extremely dramatic) when his wandering eye finds its way to not one, but two of the school's residents: teacher Miss Edwina (Kirsten Dunst) and teenaged student Alicia (Elle Fanning).
After an inappropriate liaison between Alicia and the much older McBurney is uncovered by Edwina, tensions rise and McBurney tries to usurp control of the household from the very women who took him in and have been sheltering him for days on end.
Though the film is somewhat of a slow burn, it's successful in creating a kind of suspense that doesn't have you biting your nails and on the edge of your seat, but still leaves you yearning to see more. Kidman's performance as the head of school and household is also a hallmark of The Beguiled, especially in the moments where she has to be an example of leadership and poise for the girls while also grappling to figure out what to do with McBurney (one particular scene where she's flustered after having to wash and clean Farrell's strong, manly body was particularly humorous and relatable for the love-starved).
But the film's best draw, and one that we know Coppola is extremely masterful at creating, is the sense of community and fellowship between the women in the film. Even when it's really put to the test from outside forces, the women end up being there for each other and working together to do what needs to be done. When there's not much else to do besides study and tend to a continuously dilapidating home, a handsome Irish stud showing up at your door and completely shaking things up is thrilling to watch, and although his relationship with the women went south and his intentions weren't good, McBurney did help teach Miss Martha and her girls (well, most of them at least) the importance of a having a united front, especially from someone who is trying to take what's yours—and that's something that's always refreshing to see in an era where women still get pitted against each other when it comes to the affections of men.
Though it isn't without its faults, the whitewashing of the film compared to the 1971 version rightfully caused quite the controversy online, The Beguiled possesses a distinct charm and a refreshing gaze that makes you want to see more of what kinds of other dramatics Miss Martha and her girls get up to—and take care of—next.
The Beguiled is now playing in theaters.