The Beguiled: A Review of Sofia Copolla’s Gothic Girl-Power Tale

photo: Focus Features
photo: Focus Features

The setting: 1860’s Virginia plantation home for girls. The location is beautiful but stark and ominous. The cannons that bellow in the distance are now mere background static to headmistress Martha (Nicole Kidman), teacher Edwina (Kirsten Dunst) and their small group of students. Then their lives get turned upside down by a wounded enemy soldier (Colin Farrell). The Beguiled is the ultimate “sisters before misters” tale.

Sofia Coppola won the coveted Best Director award at Cannes and it’s well deserved. The story is a remake, but instead of it being told through the eyes of the Yankee soldier trying to play the women against each other, it’s told through the eyes of the strong women of the house. The gauzy, gothic feeling lends a sense of tautness to the movie, and the lack of a music soundtrack (other than an eerie a capella ending) only adds to the claustrophobic mood that has you feeling like the story is closing in on you until the apex. The story plays out a bit like a trashy paperback, complete with sexual tension and underlying violence. But the ultimate result is that the women show their strength amid their fear and ultimately the soldier gets exactly what he deserves.

photo: Focus Features

It’s hard to say who the stand-out performance was. Dunst and Kidman are flawless as is Elle Fanning. Each lead brings their own sense of anxiety: Kidman with her mama-bear, protect-at-any-cost-ness, Dunst as the suppressed teacher who has resolved to be a virgin spinster for the rest of her life, and Fanning who is just coming of age and rebellious. They play with and against each other in a gothic tug-of-war. Colin Farrell knows how to play each one of them until they wise up, band together, and handle things the only way they know how. You will truly understand why the term #VengefulBitches exists.

The Beguiled is in theaters everywhere

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