Review / ‘The Beguiled’ (MA) *** and a half

ITS 1864. A girl on the cusp of puberty gathering mushrooms discovers a Union army corporal with a broken leg outside the compound of an ante-bellum, Greco-style building.

The building is a school for young ladies, where principal Miss Martha (Nicole Kidman) and the widow Edwina (Kirsten Dunst) are caring for the education of five girls. The region’s men are in the Confederate Army fighting for separation from those pesky northerners who want to preserve the Union and abolish slavery.

Keep those wild mushrooms in mind.

Sofia Coppola’s film using the same screenplay by Albert Maltz based on Thomas Cullinan’s novel as Don Siegel’s 1971 version in which Clint Eastwood played McBurney, makes changes of detail but preserves the principal dramatic threads.

This time Colin Farrell’s portrayal offers him a little more subtlety. Owning the only testosterone for miles around, McBurney finds himself surrounded by women with varying carnal needs, desires, repressions and fears. It’s only a matter of time before they come to a sharp focus. Which, understandably, is when the conflict really gets going.

Don’t forget the mushrooms.

While Coppola’s direction may not please everybody, her realising of the story and evocation of its time and place are deft. If she used any artificial light it is not apparent. Even night-time interiors are lit using candles. When Stanley Kubrick used that technique in “Barry Lyndon” in 1975, there was much media speculation about it. Nowadays it’s unremarkable.

Essentially a period melodrama that comes to a grave conclusion, “The Beguiled” is neither disagreeable nor uplifting, neither cheerful nor sombre. But subject to those parameters, it’s entertaining.

At Palace Electric, Capitol 6 and Dendy


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