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article imageReview: ‘The Beguiled’ captivates characters before it all goes wrong Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Jun 30, 2017 in Entertainment
‘The Beguiled’ is Sofia’s Coppola’s latest picture to turn gender stereotypes on their heads while telling an enticing tale of lust and revenge.
During war times in the 19th century and earlier, the men would all leave and the women would ban together in an effort to protect their homes and families. While the men faced the carnage of battle, the women faced their own hardships with supply shortages, pillaging soldiers and tending large pieces of land alone. This was the case during the Civil War, in which men of all ages and races were sent to kill each other while the women were delivered news of their deaths. In The Beguiled, a Southern all-girl’s school becomes host to an injured Yankee solider near the end of the conflict.
Miss Martha’s (Nicole Kidman) palatial school for young women is located on the edges of a woods on a large piece of land that has been mostly neglected. Along with a teacher, Edwina (Kirsten Dunst), she has kept the institute open for a small group of girls with nowhere else to go. One day when Amy (Oona Laurence) is foraging for mushrooms in the woods, she is startled by a wounded Yankee named Corporal McBurney (Colin Farrell) who asks for help. Unable to leave him, she carries him back to the school where Miss Martha must decide what to do with him. It’s agreed they will mend his leg and then turn him over to the regularly passing Confederate army. But in the coming weeks, they let each opportunity to turn him in pass as all the ladies become enamoured with the handsome, smooth-talking Irishman… though eventually, he probably wishes they had turned him in.
Director Sofia Coppola creates exquisite female-led movies with excellent casts that challenge gender norms and relate captivating stories. Reversing roles in this instance, it’s the Southern belles who are peacocking for their manly guest. Each of them consistently attempts to spend additional time with the Corporal or spy him through a crack in the door. However, the more time he spends there recuperating, the more comfortable everyone becomes with his presence. When he’s invited to dine with them, all the ladies don their finest attire as if attending a special event rather than just another dinner at the school. And their version of a pissing contest involves them one-upping each other regarding their contributions to the meal.
But the soldier is also smart enough to understand his future depends on these women and his maintaining their favour. Therefore, he’s attentive to each of his visitors; telling them what they wish to hear and assuring them of his affection. But unlike men who would sooner turn on each other than admit defeat, regardless of who McBurney chooses they will blame him — and since he chooses most wrongly, he is inadvertently punished most severely.
As their relationships are out of necessity more than anything else, there is little camaraderie shown in between their necessary interactions of chores and lessons. In fact, even in those situations, they can often be seen sneering behind each other’s back or rolling their eyes. Miss Martha and Edwina have a strained rapport as the teacher is often treated as another one of the children in spite of her age and position. Similarly, as Alicia (Elle Fanning) is the eldest student, she is most threatened by and the biggest threat to her instructors.
The direction of this story is relatively surprising, though the conclusion is both unjust and inevitable.
Director: Sofia Coppola
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst and Elle Fanning
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