The Beguiled

Bold Remake


23 June 2017| No Comments on The Beguiled     by Sean Chavel


Intriguing as it is troubling. The Beguiled is set at a girls’ school in 1864 Virginia where peace is interrupted by the arrival of a wounded yankee soldier. Its implied that these cloistered women see men at large a threat, and yet there is something about the enticing Corporal John McBurney, he’s sly and charming and even provocative for nineteenth century standards. The head mistress in particular threatens to turn McBurney over to the Confederate side where he will certainly be imprisoned, so McBurney turns on the charm so he can stay at this gothic haven indefinitely. This is the sixth theatrical film by Sofia Coppola, and if ranked it falls somewhere in her middle (“Lost in Translation” and “Marie Antoinette” continue to get better with age). But make no mistake – this is a filmmaker who always delivers mature, sophisticated work.

It’s a remake of what was already a strange, unconventional 1971 Clint Eastwood film. Now that the remake has come out, it makes the Eastwood film a hot topic because it seems more politically incorrect than ever, and audacious. If memory serves correct, the women were more impressionable push-overs, often two-faced, objects of lust with reckless emotions. Eastwood became a victim of ripe women behaving competitively and rashly and the man’s downfall might have had something to do with being a Civil War era babe magnet.

The remake hints at the same message but its methods are different (it’s also in its coolness, and sanded down visual palette quite evocative and beautiful). Coppola, always curious to see what makes people tick, puts the film in the point of view of not the male but the female cast. By doing so, she delivers a cast of strong, supple female characters, featuring in particular Nicole Kidman as the headmistress, Elle Fanning as a wonton girl who will make any attempt to touch this occupant male creature, and Kirsten Dunst as a teacher who I feel gives the most delicate performance as a woman whose narrow sights in life never counted on a male to rouse her fancy. For proper Southern women of the time, Dunst is heartrending as an uptight, proper figure uneasy in her own skin.

These are very mannered women of a very mannered, and so the yearnings of these characters are far more subtle. Colin Farrell is terrific and magnetic as an Irishman who found himself fighting in the Civil War only to go rogue (and badly injure his leg). The way he speaks to these women is somewhat anachronistic, as if he’s a man who studied the mid-nineteenth century Kinsey report and went back to his own time knowing exactly what to say to charm women.

Ironically, this implausibility in the McBurney character actually helps the film flex its ideas.

These women have the perfect man to bargain with, and it’s a psychological study of sorts to see how they will go about it. Each woman can accept his advances or reject him, but they can’t reject him when he’s that good at plucking at their desires. When McBurney does cross boundaries and follow-through with the women sexually, well, I can’t help but feel it deflates the air out of the film a bit. I liked the wind-up more than the payoff. I’m not sure what Coppola thinks about these characters, about whether she is siding with the women or the man in this case. Maybe being ambivalent is part of the point, but I’m also not sure of that.

Yet what I love about Coppola is that she once again views characters, every last one of them, as tragic cases stuck in an unwanted societal trap.

Coppola won the Best Director award at the Cannes Film Festival.

94 Minutes. Rated R.


Film Cousins: “The Beguiled” (1971); “Somersby” (1993); “Ravenous” (1999); “Cold Mountain” (2003).

Beguiled_Flick-Minute - 2017

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Sean Chavel

About The Author / Sean Chavel

Sean Chavel is a Hollywood based author and movie reviewer. He is the Executive Director of, a new website that has adapted the movie review site genre by introducing moodbased and movie experience based reviews.


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