The Beguiled (3 stars)

The Beguiled

Cannes 2017: Colin Farrell sets hearts dangerously aflutter in Sofia Coppola's flustered melodrama

You have to wonder what possessed Sofia Coppola to remake The Beguiled. Thomas P Cullinan's 1966 novel is a slice of Southern Gothic that was famously filmed in 1971 by director Don Siegel with Clint Eastwood as the wounded Union soldier who arrives at a ladies' seminary like a hungry fox at the gates of a tasty chicken coop. There was certainly room for a subtle, more feminist perspective on the material but Coppola offers a meticulously crafted high-camp melodrama that seems happy to invite your derision.

Colin Farrell is Corporal John McBurney, a wounded deserter discovered in the woods near a school for girls in 1864. Headmistress Martha Farnsworth (Nicole Kidman) is persuaded to show him Christian kindness. However, he is barely over the door before the seven females are batting their eyelashes, looking out their prettiest dresses and baking him apple pie. Who wants to conjugate French verbs and catch up on sewing when there is a man about the house? The gentlemanly McBurney is not about to disappoint any of them: befriending, seducing and disarming as required. His presence becomes a startling provocation, unleashing jealousies and unseemly desires. He cannot continue to be tolerated.

The Beguiled is an elegant-looking production but it moves with ridiculous haste through the gears, from atmospheric scene-setting to overwrought psychodrama, complete with crashing chandeliers and a tumble down a sweeping staircase. Kirsten Dunst earns the most sympathy as the love-starved Edwina, leaving an imperious Kidman to handle the flamboyant dialogue. 'Edwina, get me the anatomy book!,' might join 'No wire hangers!' from Mommie Dearest in years to come.

Enjoyable in places, it nevertheless feels rushed and as flustered as some of the women caught in McBurney's gaze. That can't have been Coppola's intention.

Screening as part of the Cannes Film Festival 2017. General release from Fri 14 Jul.

The Beguiled

  • 3 stars
  • 2017
  • US
  • 1h 34min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Sofia Coppola
  • Cast: Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning

John McBurney (Farrell) is a wounded Union deserter in the US Civil War who winds up in a school for girls, where headmistress Martha (Kidman) is persuaded to show him kindness. Coppola’s remake of Don Siegel’s sweaty 1971 original plays like meticulously crafted high-camp melodrama; intermittently enjoyable, but rushed…