Review: The Beguiled

Last Updated on August 5, 2021

PLOT: During the Civil War, an injured Union soldier (Colin Farrell) is taken-in by the residents of a Southern girls' school, but his presence soon stirs up trouble among the repressed students and teachers.

REVIEW: THE BEGUILED is director Sofia Coppola’s feminist take on Don Siegel’s unusual 1971 thriller of the same name, which famously starred Clint Eastwood as the injured soldier. While that film portrayed him as more of a victim, Coppola’s movie takes an altogether different tact, although it takes more than two-thirds of the running time before she finally gets to the meat of the story.


Until then, THE BEGUILED is a slow burn, allowing us to get acquainted with the residents of the girl’s school, which, questionably and controversially, doesn’t depend on any slaves, something tough to swallow in a film set in Antebellum-era south. The original novel and the Eastwood film both acknowledged this, although in Coppola’s film the lack of slaves is dismissed with an off-hand comment that “all the slaves have run away” – presumably not something easy to do in 1864 Virginia.

That said, it’s clear Coppola’s not interested in that aspect of the Civil War at all, but rather the role of white southern women, raised to be proper and God-fearing, but also, in many respects, forced to live a cloistered, repressed life. How they deal with a threat on their own is the focus here, and while ignoring the issue of slavery is disappointing given Coppola’s obvious skill at movie-making, what’s left is still quite interesting.

The trailers have made Coppola’s film look more like the Siegel version, and I walked in expecting Nicole Kidman’s headmistress to be a kind of grand guignol baddie, but she’s extremely sympathetic and her performance is excellent. While she clearly grapples with repressed sexuality (an early scene where she gets hot and bothered bathing an unconscious Colin Farrell is a gem), she seems to want to do right by everyone, from her students, to Farrell. There’s something quite strong and even noble about her performance, which is starkly different from how the character was portrayed in the other version.

Kirsten Dunst is also excellent as the head teacher, who gets swept up by the roguish guest, and is clearly more of a slave to her desires than Kidman. Dunst has always been terrific in Coppola’s films, and this is no exception. Elle Fanning is also good as a more liberated student, but this really isn’t her film, with Coppola keeping the focus on the Dunst-Kidman-Farrell trio.


Meanwhile, Farrell is ideal in the Eastwood part, both maintaining an air of sympathy as his character gets put through the ringer, but also conveying a palpable sense of menace. My only wish is that Coppola has been less precious about the visuals, which appear to have been shot in natural light by DP Philippe Le Sourd. While I appreciate the stab at realism, unless you’re Stanley Kubrick this is a tough nut to crack, and it demands absolutely pristine exhibition to come off well. The version I saw was dark and murky, and took away from the film greatly, making this the rare movie that will likely look much better at home. Indie rock band Phoenix also contributes a low-key score which is used sparingly, but adds to the atmosphere.

While THE BEGUILED is not the film it could have been, Coppola’s movies are always worth a look, and the performances are uniformly excellent. It’s definitely an interesting contrast to the 1971 film, and both fascinating for what it explores, but also for what it leaves out.


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About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.