We can show 'em some really Southern hospitality

We can show ’em some really Southern hospitality

 

Life in small social circles is a delicate balance. It can take a long time to fully understand what each-other is capable of. Bonds can be forged, and seeds of distrust planted. It doesn’t take much to disrupt this tender ecosystem; to uproot all that has been carefully tended to, and let the worst elements flourish.

Sometimes all it takes is just one foreign body.

THE BEGUILED begins with young Amy (Oona Laurence), gathering mushrooms near her schoolhouse in Civil War era Virginia. As she goes about the task, she happens upon a wounded Union soldier named Corporal John McBurney (Colin Farrell). Rather than leave him to die, or signal nearby Confederate units, Amy brings him back to her schoolhouse and pleads for the schoolmistress to give him quarter.

The schoolmistress in this case is Miss Martha (Nicole Kidman) – a tough head of house and intuitive den mother who sees the sort of values she has instilled in Amy for the good it represents. She sets aside the other four pupils – Alicia, Jane, Marie, and Emily (Elle Fanning, Angourie Rice, Addison Rieckie, and Emma Howard). With them out of the fray for the moment, she tends to the soldier’s wounded leg with the school’s only other teacher – Edwina (Kirsten Dunst) – acting as her nurse.

Soon, the corporal is on the mend. He hobbles about with the use of a cane, makes polite conversation with the teachers and the students, and even begins to earn his keep by tending to the grounds. The women had been prepared to hand him over as a prisoner of war the first chance they got, but with every passing moment, Cpl. McBurney endears himself deeper and deeper into their lives.

Eventually, McBurney is declaring his love to Edwina…and also accepting the inviting gestures from Alicia. All of it leads to a flash point of conflict I dare not reveal, and consequences I likewise want to keep as a surprise.

The fallout is a situation that tests the trust, wits, and resolve of everyone in the schoolhouse.

The charms of a wounded soldier allowed him a stay of execution. The charms of seven women changed his fate; for better and ultimately for the worse. Whose charms will ultimately win the day?

 

Nicole Kidman in The Beguiled

 

The sound of THE BEGUILED is something to behold. From moment to moment, the low rumble of distant cannon fire can be heard. It should be disquieting for all involved; an omnipresent reminder of just how viciously their country is getting torn apart. And yet, it’s not. Everyone acts cordial – all sides seem to believe that they are immune to the violence of the era because they are minding their manners. Perhaps if these characters kept their ears open the way that we do, things would work out differently for all involved.

Perhaps by listening for the drums of war, one can avoid a sneak attack by someone wearing friendly colours.

At the centre of this movie is the way we treat our enemies. We have entered an age where anyone flying a flag other than our own is to be treated with extreme prejudice, and given no quarter. Human rights and due process are given barely more than lip service. It seems nearly foreign to consider that there was a time where human decency would supersede the rules of engagement.

Then, as now, the enemy was one of their own. Then, as now, the ultimate goal to one day be able to live side-by-side with the enemy when the fighting stopped. Putting aside the ultimate twist of fate, there is great strength of character to be gleaned from these seven women.

There is actually a lot to be gleaned from these seven women. The movie never wastes the audience time by spelling-out for us what sort of person each resident of the schoolhouse is. Instead it trusts that if we pay attention not only to what they say, but how they say it, we will learn what we need to know. Any group that is forced together for this amount of time will pick up on each-other’s shorthand. The question is whether Cpl. McBurney can, and likewise, can we?

After all, if such things aren’t spelled out, how is one to spot the most troublesome of the bunch? The strongest? The most violent?

This is all to say that director Sofia Coppola has crafted an incredible film. She has mined an existing story in search of its beating heart, and pointed our attention to this beautiful place during terrible times; these women of poise in a moment of quiet ferocity.

It’s a stunning achievement; a master stroke in a career already defined by bold strokes.

Make no mistake – THE BEGUILED is a violent movie. It is as ruthless and merciless a tale as you are like to find on movie screens this year. However, it is particular about its depiction of the violence. It has no interest in splashing the lens with blood, or littering the floorboards with gore. It’s violence comes from the quiet backswing of the blade – not the grunt as it is brought down. That, we are made to understand, is the most violent part of the blow: not the final delivery, but being at peace with delivering it in the first place.

The grotesque cough from a poison pill might be disturbing…but what should one make of the sly smile on the alchemist that prepares the dose?

 

Matineescore: ★ ★ ★ ★ out of ★ ★ ★ ★
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