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The Beguiled is a film I’ve been looking forward to since I saw the first trailer, and with the good reviews plus Sofia Coppola winning Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival this year (only the second woman to ever do so), it quickly became one of my most anticipated summer movies. It’s a different kind of feminist film than Wonder Woman, but we need both of them, because there aren’t nearly enough.
Women from certain historical eras didn’t have the option of hauling off and kicking someone’s ass a la Diana Prince and the Amazons, so their strength is shown in different ways. It’s quieter, and more subtle, portrayed in a way that’s “nicer,” but rest assured that when they’re up against the wall these women can protect themselves in their own way. This is a different kind of war movie, one that completely lacks battle scenes. Instead we see the home front, the lives of the women left behind as men went off to war, and you only ever hear gunfire and cannons far off in the distance.
Colin Farrell is the lone man in the entire film (with the exception of a few background characters on screen for a very brief time), and even though I know the statistics about how rare that is, I was caught off guard by this shot in particular.
All those big, frilly dresses with just one teeny blip of masculinity. Women are so used to that twinge of discomfort at being the only one like them in a room, so enjoy those turned tables buddy. He plays John McBurney, an injured Union soldier found by a young girl who attends an all-girls school run by Nicole Kidman’s character Martha Farnsworth. Everyone else has fled the area because of the Civil War, but Miss Martha keeps the school open so these few girls have somewhere to stay. While initially John is treated as a curiosity, they only want to get him well enough so that he can be picked up by passing troops.
It’s not long before they all get used to him being around (they are the beguiled after all), and decide to let him stay after he helps them with their garden. John takes a particular interest in Kirsten Dunst’s character Edwina, and even goes so far as to declare his love for her. But when Elle Fanning’s Alicia engages in flirtatious behavior with him he doesn’t try to stop it, and he gives Martha some special attention as well. It’s unclear why he thinks messing with all the women in the house he wants to stay in indefinitely isn’t going to backfire. And boy does it backfire.
The Beguiled is very, very quiet and still, and feels small- the only location we ever see being the boarding house and surrounding woods- which makes the moments of suspense near the end of the film extremely jarring and unsettling. Things get extremely dramatic extremely fast, and all the girls at Miss Martha’s school are ready when it does. It becomes clear that John is not actually the gentleman that he appeared to be upon first entering their house (shocker), and the littlest girl among them is the one who actually comes up with the idea for how they’re going to deal with him. It’s a moment that’s equal parts heartbreaking and awe inspiring: that a girl so small has to think in such a harsh way to survive in the world. Unfortunately though, nobody can honestly say it’s not the truth.
The Beguiled is in select theaters on Friday, and goes wide on June 30th.
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