Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled is set during the American Civil War and is about a wounded Union solider, Corporal John McBurney, who seeks refuge in a girls’ school in Virginia and basically sets a sexual bomb under the place. It’s based on a 1966 novel by Thomas Cullinan, which was first filmed by Don Siegel in 1971 starring Clint Eastwood, whose McBurney forces himself on a 12-year-old girl in the opening scene. ‘Not too young for kisses,’ he says, before moving in for a long, deep snog. WTF! Thus far, I have not heard it said that Coppola’s remake does not capture the original, probably because it’s a blessed mercy. She has refashioned a pulpy, misogynistic B-movie into a wonderfully restrained but explosive feminist revenge drama, which has to be terrific. And it is.
The film begins with 12-year-old Amy (Oona Laurence) collecting mushrooms in the woods, as the mists rise and a gauzy sun filters through the vivid green of the hanging moss. (Stunning.) She has plaits and a basket. She is Little Red Riding Hood, about to encounter the wolf in the form of McBurney (Colin Farrell), who is injured and hiding out there. In this instance, there is no deep, long kiss, and neither does he sport a leonine hairdo or a big squirt of what appears to be tomato ketchup dribbling down his forehead. (I’m sorry, once you have seen the original you don’t forget it in a hurry. It’s £5 from Amazon, and also features lesbianism, incest, as well as a three-way sexual fantasy. Cheap at twice the price.)
Amy helps him back to the Miss Martha Farnsworth Seminary for Young Ladies, as run by Miss Martha (Nicole Kidman). The school, set in a grand plantation house, has dwindled to just one other teacher, Miss Edwina (Kirsten Dunst), and five students, including Elle Fanning as 18-year-old Alicia, who makes eyes at McBurney from the off.