I may have never seen the original 1971 movie The Beguiled, which starred Clint Eastwood, but it doesn’t matter because I will never forget the 2017 remake, which stars Colin Farrell. The newest interpretation, directed by Sofia Coppola, is officially classified as a drama and western, but, in my humble opinion, 2017’s The Beguiled is more of a psychological thriller. (I can’t wrap my head around why it was even classified as a western other than the fact that there’s a horse in one scene.)
Supposedly set in Virginia during the Civil War, Colin Farrell’s character, Corporal John McBurney, a Union soldier separated from his regiment, is wounded and alone. When a young girl named Amy, played by Oona Laurence, stumbles upon him as she picks mushrooms in the forest, she rescues him. (On a side note, Oona has has recently become one of my favorite young actresses. You’ll recognize her from Bad Moms and Pete’s Dragon.)
Amy brings John back to her all girls’ school, which is run by Nicole Kidman’s character Miss Martha. With the Civil War looming in the near distance, Miss Martha provides room and board, a highly civilized education that includes French lessons, and, most importantly, safety. Along with a teacher named Edwina, played by Kirsten Dunst, Miss Martha shields her remaining group of five young ladies from the atrocities of war they would otherwise encounter if they went home.
With John’s unexpected arrival, all seven ladies find themselves in a moral dilemma. Do they help him even though he is technically the enemy since he’s not a Confederate soldier, or do they do their Christian duty, doing everything in their power to save his life?
By definition, to beguile means to charm or enchant someone in a deceptive way. After watching the trailer, I assumed that John would be the one who would become the beguiled, but after seeing the movie, I realize that the title can apply to each of the characters. John is led to believe that his health is of the utmost importance to the ladies at Miss Martha’s school, but before long it becomes apparent that the ladies have underlying intentions that are a far cry from being pure.
Elle Fanning’s character Alicia beguiles everyone, pretending to be innocent, the perfect Southern belle, while secretly harboring impure thoughts. She flirts with John, knowing full well that Edwina fancies him. John beguiles Edwina, feeding her desperation with the words she yearns to hear. Miss Martha beguiles her students with cold calculation, influencing their thoughts while giving the allusion that their opinions truly matter.
The film, only an hour and thirty-three minutes, felt painfully slow, and a few of the scenes were unseemly as they dealt with medical issues I wish I hadn’t seen. It brought out the worst characteristics that are unfortunately attributed to women more so than men, such as jealousy and cattiness. As the ladies of the house each became intent on garnering John’s full affection, it felt like the message was that a man’s attention is worth more than friendship, loyalty, or honesty.
Another aspect of the movie that felt grossly disappointing to me was the director’s assumption that people would believe the film was shot in Virginia. As a military spouse who’s called various parts of Virginia home, the giant plantation trees adorned with Spanish moss hanging from them are not trees I have ever seen in Virginia. It was careless on Sofia Coppola’s part to think that people would just believe that’s what Virginia looked like during the Civil War. (I looked it up online, and it was shot in Louisiana.)
My friend Kelly, who attended the movie with me, turned to me at the end of the movie, and asked a three word question that started with, “What the . . . ?” (I’ll let you use your imagination to fill in the blank.) As we left the theater trying to absorb what we had just witnessed, Kelly surmised, “This was the worst movie ever.”
The original film was twelve minutes longer than the remake so one compliment I can pay to the director is that she saved the 2017 audience members a few minutes of lingering pain as they witnessed the worst traits of humanity brought to life on the big screen. While the cast was impressive and the acting was beyond top-notch, the plot itself left a lot to be desired. Maybe the title The Beguiled applied more to the audience than to the characters; the trailer lured me in, but the movie itself was a disappointment.
Movie times: click here
Genre: Drama, Western
Director: Sofia Coppola
Actors: Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning
Running Time: 1 hour 33 minutes
Rating: Rated R for some sexuality