MOVIE REVIEW: Nicole Kidman bewitches in The Beguiled
SOFIA Coppola's remake of Clint Eastwood's 1971 US Civil War movie of the same name is as tightly corsetted as her female ensemble cast. It might have benefited from a bit more room to breathe.
Based on Thomas P. Cullinan's novel, The Beguiled tells the story of an injured Yankee soldier (Colin Farrell) who is given temporary refuge in an all-female boarding school.
While the Southern gothic drama's pace is as languid as a mid-summer's afternoon in rural Virginia, the plot points feel oddly rushed and even truncated.
Kirsten Dunst does a fine job of conveying the seething emotions of the sexually repressed, socially isolated school teacher Edwina. But the character is charmed, propositioned, spurned, avenged, made penitent and finally and rather violently "satisfied" in such quick narrative succession that any psychological through-line proves elusive.
Then again, her seductor is sexually indiscrete and emotionally undiscerning to the point of sociopathy.
That injured soldier, John McBurney, might be like a kid in a candy shop - these women haven't had any intimate contact with a man in years - but still.
After dinner one night, he asks Edwina for permission to come up to her room when the others have gone to bed.
His brief post-dessert frisson with headmistress Martha Farnsworth (Nicole Kidman) at the bottom of the stairs makes sense, but not his quixotic detour to the room of the sexually precocious teenager Alicia (Elle Fanning) soon afterwards. Did he just blunder through the wrong door? It seems unlikely. In the circumstances, even Casanova would have been a little more gracious.
Pedro Almodovar presided over the jury that voted Coppola best director at the Cannes Film Festival this year for this movie. It would have been interesting to hear what the flamboyant and female-friendly filmmaker made of such a melodramatic storyline.
As it stands, The Beguiled works primarily due to the casting of Nicole Kidman in the crucial role of headmistress. The star hasn't had a chance to flex her comedic muscles this convincingly since To Die For's wickedly funny Suzanne Stone.
The scene in which Miss Farnsworth prepares to amputate McBurney's badly-damaged leg is a fine example. Kidman delivers the line "Bring me the anatomy book" with perfect sang froid.
The penultimate mushroom scene is just as delicious - and by this point, thankfully, all the actors are on the same page.
Beguiled might be overstating the case, but moviegoers are likely to be intrigued by Coppola's retelling of Cullinan's story from the women's point of view.
And Kidman's performance gives it unexpected substance.
The Beguiled opens in cinemas tomorrow.
Stars: Nicole Kidman, Colin Farrell, Kirsten Dunst
Director: Sofia Coppola
Verdict: 3 stars