Tropic Sprockets / The Beguiled

By Ian Brockway

Remakes in cinema are touch and go. Often, they are derivative and lack the novelty or the surprise of the original. Even with the best intent they can bring a predictable sense of deja vu. Thankfully, director Sophia Coppola’s “The Beguiled” (a remake of Don Siegel’s 1971 film), which won Best Director at Cannes this year, does not belong to the category of reruns. This film is as fresh and compelling  as it was forty six years ago. It delivers a more intensely female perspective of revenge and consequences.

In place of Clint Eastwood, Colin Farrell stars as Cpl. John McBurney, a Union soldier, and Nicole Kidman co-stars as headmistress Martha Farnsworth, with Kirsten Dunst as Edwina.

The setting is an isolated all-girl school in Virginia during the Civil War. Amy (Oona Laurence) is in the woods gathering mushrooms when she discovers McBurney, a handsome and injured man in blue. The young girl decides to bring the soldier to the school, reasoning correctly that he is near death. Farnsworth fixes his leg.

Needless to say, McBurney’s dark looks put the entire school in a tizzy.

Farnsworth is forced to wash the soldier’s pale abdominals and she carries on through her hot flashes. Amy talks to McBurney whenever she can as does Edwina and the seductive Alicia (Elle Fanning) who sends the corporal to ecstasy with a kiss, deep and stolen.

Coppola’s directorial restraint is a new invention, an interpreted accent on the original film. There is as much attention given to the feminine fixings of dresses and ribbons as there is to frets and storms. And along with the slow perfuming  of an ivory neck or a lock of blond hair

You will ponder as to who is filled with either a pure or malevolent intention, or perhaps a mixture of the two.

Kidman gives a fine performance as do Dunst, Fanning and Laurence.

No character is a cartoon here despite the plot’s obvious Gothicism. The most eerie of vignettes pertain to the daily prayer and Coppola masterfully makes what is a ritual into something apprehensive and foreboding in the manner of “The Crucible.”

With solid suspense and a few jumps that increasingly build and never quite let go, this version of “The Beguiled” is both a tribute to the film before and a sinister study of affection and sex.

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