“The Beguiled” (Focus), Sofia Coppola’s beguiling and award-winning remake of the 1971 Clint Eastwood vehicle, is set in 1864 Virginia, three years into the Civil War. Miss Martha Farnsworth (Nicole Kidman) runs a no-nonsense boarding school for girls. Due to the instability of the period, the student population has been reduced to five pupils – Alicia (Elle Fanning), Amy (Oona Laurence), Jane (Angourie Rice), Marie (Addison Riecke) and Emily (Emma Howard). Martha is assisted in her instruction duties by Edwina (Kirsten Dunst).
The female residents of the school have settled into their daily educational and chore routines as explosions rumble in the distance, and smoke rises into the air. But their tentative solitude is about to be disrupted. While out picking mushrooms, nature-loving Amy stumbles upon wounded Union soldier Corporal John McBurney (Colin Farrell). Bleeding and barely able to walk due to a leg injury, Amy helps John to his feet and guides him to the school grounds.
A mercenary, fresh off the boat from Ireland, John is an unwelcome guest in Martha’s Confederate home. Regardless, she considers it her Christian duty to care for John, thereby restoring him to health so that he can be on his way. Of course, due to the sensations and tensions set in motion brought on by the presence of a man (and a hot one, at that) she is going to meet with resistance from a variety of sources.
The combination of Alicia’s budding sexual awareness, Edwina’s suddenly aroused passion ignited by John’s attention, and Martha’s own unexpected and flustering curiosity, set some of the drama, as well as the comedic moments, in motion. Previously unconcerned about their appearance, the females, including the younger ones, begin to dress and act differently, learning (or re-learning) how to flirt and so on.
John, who is well-aware of the disturbance he is creating in the atmosphere, also takes pleasure from the attention being showered upon him. But he is a mercenary at heart and well-versed in the art of manipulation. Afraid of what will become of him after his wounds have healed if he is turned over to the Confederate soldiers, who pass in front of the gate of Martha’s home school, he makes an effort to be indispensable.
However, it doesn’t take long before the sexual tension reaches its peak. When it eventually does erupt, there are terribly unfortunate consequences. In a shocking finale, there is also one less person at the dinner table. Rating: B