The Beguiled

Fresh from its Cannes debut, Sofia Coppola’s sexual drama maintains the wooziness of a dream while socking you with the punch of a nightmare.

Colin Farrell is the Yankee soldier found wounded in the Spanish-moss steeped woods by a young girl, who brings him back to the seminary in a classic southern mansion, run by Miss Martha, played with prim confidence by Nicole Kidman.

There, Farrell’s soldier, McBurney, receives stitches to his wound and room to recover, recumbent on a day bed in the sun-dappled music room. The few girls remaining at the school giggle and titter at the presence of this man, although teacher Miss Edwina (Kirsten Dunst) has more serious attractions.

Then there’s the flirtatious teen Alicia, excellently played by Elle Fanning. Coppola is very good at this pack mentality and one thinks of The Virgin Suicides and also The Bling Ring. Atmosphere and texture waft to the fore, buoyed by Phoenix’s music, the simmering tensions of the war outside (the sound of rumbling cannon-fire is constant) reflected by the sexual tensions seething inside.

A re-working of Clint Eastwood’s 1971 version, you’ll have to plumb the ironies of the title – who’s beguiling whom, exactly? Certainly, the audience will be drawn in – this is a strong picture, gorgeous with detail yet fragile as lace, heavy with southern heat and mixed motives.

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