Thursday 17 August 2017

The Beguiled movie review: 'A smashing film - the big twist will knock you sideways'

****

The Beguiled.
The Beguiled.

Chris Wasser

It’s 1864 in Virginia, and the American Civil War is in full swing. Colin Farrell is Union Army Corporal, John McBurney. Poor McBurney’s leg is banjaxed, and he appears to have done a runner, crash-landing in the woods just beyond Miss Martha Farnsworth’s school for girls. Nicole Kidman is Miss Farnsworth.

One of her students, Amy (Oona Laurence), finds the injured corporal by a tree. She helps McBurney to his feet and drags him back to the school. There’s hardly anybody left — just a handful of students and a worrisome teacher. They lock McBurney in a room. Miss Farnsworth cleans him up.

They don’t know whether to hand the corporal over to the Confederate lads or to let him stay — at least until his wounds heal. And, wouldn’t you know it — everyone here loves the Farreller. His arrival has quite the effect on the residents at Miss Farnsworth’s, including the head mistress herself. He can stay. But he has to do some gardening. He has to earn his keep.

One of the girls, Alicia (Elle Fanning), plays mind games. Teacher, Edwina (Kirsten Dunst), falls head over heels for the handsome chap with the deadly accent. Even Miss Farnsworth can barely hide her feelings. And then…well, then…um…er, I don’t want to give too much away, but let’s just say that McBurney is going to wish he’d been handed over to the army dudes.

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Kirsten Dunst and Colin Farrell in The Beguiled

A loose remake of the 1971 classic, with Clint Eastwood, and, in turn, based on the Thomas P Cullinan novel, The Beguiled leaves one hell of a mark. Sofia Coppola’s rich, atmospheric and intense offering is beautifully shot, and fabulously assembled. Farrell is superb as a cocky Irish charmer who pushes his luck way too far. Kidman firmly re-establishes her reputation as a proper screen heavyweight. There’s not a false note in place.

The big ‘twist’ will knock you sideways. Alas, if there is one major problem with Coppola’s film, it’s that there probably isn’t enough of it. It moves at a snail’s pace for an hour or so, building up the sexual tension and repression; the lingering looks and frosty exchanges until BOOM — everyone goes bananas and we’re all racing to the finished line.

So, yeah, the final third is a tad rushed. That’s right, we’re complaining about a film being too short (it clocks in at 94 minutes, in case you were wondering). That doesn’t happen very often. Still a smashing film, all the same.

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