The Beguiled

Based on a 1966 novel that was adapted into a 1971 film starring Clint Eastwood, The Beguiled is a well-crafted moody Gothic psychological thriller set in the midst of the Civil War about a small isolated girls boarding school sympathetic with the Confederacy and an encounter with an enemy Union soldier. Played by Colin Farrell, Corporal John McBurney is discovered injured in the woods near a largely abandoned boarding school in a former Virginia plantation close to the front line and run by the stern Miss Martha Farnsworth, played by the spooky Nicole Kidman. Reluctantly, the headmistress along with another teacher and the five remaining young students decide to take him in to recuperate until he is healthy enough to be turned over to the Confederate Army as a prisoner of war. Over time, the girls who have been isolated for so long begin to fall for the handsome McBurney and compete with each other for his attention. The young and beautiful teacher Edwina Morrow, played by Kirsten Dunst, becomes particularly infatuated with him, and he appears to reciprocate the interest. Tensions rapidly escalate when Edwina feels betrayed by McBurney and one of the teenage students Alicia, played by the conniving Elle Fanning. The jealousies between the young women and even with Miss Farnsworth over the affection of the injured corporal eventually leads the women to commit desperately sinister acts to prevent him from leaving. At the helm of the talented indie director Sofia Coppola, the movie does a brilliant job of creating an extremely dark and suspenseful atmosphere. To underscore the story’s brooding nature and Civil War setting, the film itself looks like it was filmed on a old-fashioned camera with dark lighting and faded colors. Furthermore, the plot development’s slow and sometimes tedious pace in which not much action happens until the end reflects the confining nature of the boarding school and McBurney anxiously awaiting being turned over to the Confederates. Overall, I found the film extremely effective in conveying a very specific mood and atmospheric quality central to heightening the slow-burn suspense and viciousness of the story. The movie reminds me of 1990’s Misery in which a famous author is stranded after suffering injuries from a car crash in the middle of nowhere and is assisted by a seemingly friendly woman who eventually subjects him to psychological and physical torture.

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