The Beguiled (2017)

Thomas Cullinan’s 1966 American Civil War drama novel about a wounded northern fighter slowly recovering in a southern plantation seminary for young women intentionally foregrounded the feminine aspects of its story, giving every single character of the story multiple viewpoint chapters while its lone male figure received none. Don Siegel’s 1971 adaptation with Clint Eastwood in that lone role was a very literal adaptation that, while doubling down on the scumminess of that figure, did foreground him and his sort of vibe to the point of reducing a lot of what was strong and feminine about the novel.

Sofia Coppola’s take on the story, the first from an actual woman, obviously goes the other way, and with a lot of style and skill. She ramps up the psychosexual tension and methodically expands and twists the character’s relationships, a feat accomplished deftly and subtly with Colin Farrell as the film’s sole man. He does great, understated work for much of the runtime, much more believably living up the title than Eastwood’s immediately confronting take did. The principal women around him (played excellently by Nicole Kidman, Elle Fanning, and Kirsten Dunst) do the bulk of the work of the film though, projecting very differently onto Farrell’s character in the process.

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Like the novel, the film loses a lot of its strength as it gets increasingly literal in the third act, dropping some of the more interesting points about gender relations, fantasies, and rationalisation to bring some measure of plot to proceedings instead. The climactic dinner is flatter and more resigned than the 1971 version’s, the rare misfire in adaption. It’s pulp with more class and style to it than either of the story’s other iterations had, looking gorgeous all the while (lovely lighting and location). Three and a half wigs and a proposal.

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