The Beguiled has promise with a strong story to tell. Unfortunately, it's too wrapped up in Sofia Coppola's naïveté and hubris to be anything more. It's sad really. What she thinks is feminism shows how desperate, dependent, and fragile white women can be. She doesn't do this on purpose. She is simply unaware of the message her movies have given. With her previous films, there is a bit of subtlety, but The Beguiled is so bloated and in your face about the helplessness of rich people-- set at a Virginia seminary for girls--that the film is liable to give you gas pains. One thing the movie does have going for itself is the unrelenting performances by Nicole Kidman. It's so good to have the old Nicole "ice queen" Kidman back in action. If anything, the film is worth it JUST to see her regain her groove.
Kidman plays Miss Martha, the head of a school for girls right at the peak of the Civil War. Farrell’s Corporal McBurney is discovered by one of the young girls who finds him severely wounded and hiding from Confederate and Union soldiers. As soon as he crosses the threshold of the school, it turns into the real housewives of the Confederacy as the inhabitants begin to lie, cheat, and throw one another under the bus just to get some personal time with Mr. Mcburney. But Mcburney isn't the charmer he appears to be. What is he hiding? He uses the vulnerability of the women and girls against them and they don't realize it. He's a danger to their mini-society.
The antebellum south is romanticized by films like Gone with the Wind. Understandably so, it's a cinematic paradise. The dreamy landscapes are seductive, so it's easy to get caught up in the beauty of all. But along with that, people forget this aesthetic represents a place of war and oppression. This is an aspect Sofia Coppola doesn't give a damn about. It made me wonder why this remake is set in an era where most of the essential elements of the time period are ignored.
Despite all of that, Nicole Kidman steals the show from her younger counterparts. Kidman encountered what seems like a long dry spell after her Oscar win for The Hours, but with her performance in the HBO miniseries Big Little Lies, and then with her performance in The Beguiled, I'd say she's back in action. I look forward to seeing stronger roles from her.
Overall, the film doesn't offer deep story telling. It played out more like a soap opera than anything else. That does not make for good cinema.