Sofia Coppola’s Civil War drama sees an injured Union soldier played by Colin Farrell at the mercy of Nicole Kidman and the inhabitants of her boarding school. It’s fertile ground for a modern-minded bodice-ripper, and the psychological dance between Farrell and the various women (and girls), is quietly thrilling.
The Beguiled is Coppola’s most accessible film since Lost in Translation, engaging and dryly funny, with ironic bite courtesy of old-fashioned worldviews. She’ll still linger on aesthetic touches like sunlight streaming through tree branches or water pooling in Farrell’s clavicle, but only when it serves the story.
Farrell and Kidman are as good here as they were in The Killing Of A Sacred Deer, playing very different but comparably restrained characters. Farrell in particular is becoming a master at emoting using just his eyes. But it’s Kirsten Dunst who’s the soul of the film, subtly heartbreaking as a woman longing for something she can’t quite articulate. Each student also has a well-realised personality, and when the whole ensemble is together the film is at its best, a comedy of manners with a tragic backdrop.
Coppola keeps turning up the heat on the simmering tension between her leads, and when it boils over the story takes a few jarring turns. It’s loaded with subtext about gender and war, but The Beguiled never feels heavy-handed, thanks to its director’s laconic tendencies. Still, it’s hard not to feel the weight of history as the credits roll.