The Beguiled

Front Row at the Movies by Shirrel Rhoades

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In 1971 Clink Eastwood starred in a Civil War tale about a Union soldier who is rescued by a twelve-year-old student at the Miss Martha Farnsworth Seminary for Young Ladies, an all-girl boarding school in rural Mississippi. Miss Farnsworth agrees to take him in until he regains his health.

This being a Southern Gothic story, you can count on a sexually repressed atmosphere filled with jealousy and deceit. Vying for his attention, the women turn on each other. Following an injury they amputate his leg, which convinces him that they plan to hold him prisoner. In retaliation for being rebuffed, Miss Farnsworth convinces the others that they have to kill him.

Eastwood saw the film as “an opportunity to play true emotions and not totally operatic and not lighting cannons with cigars.”

Now, nearly half a century later, this story based on a book (“A Painted Devil”) by Thomas P. Cullinan is being updated as a movie. You’ll find this new version of “The Beguiled” playing at Tropic Cinema.

This time around it stars Colin Farrell in the role of Corporal John “McBee” McBurney. Nicole Kidman is starchy as the headmistress. Kirsten Dunst is the schoolteacher. And Elle Fanning heads up the gaggle of schoolgirls.

Clint Eastwood and director Don Siegel saw the original film as an anti-war statement. Siegel described it as examining “the basic desire of women to castrate men.”

The remake by Sofia Coppola (“Lost in Translation,” “The Virgin Suicides”) is seen more as a film about female empowerment. Coppola’s slow-to-unfold film is told with “surgical precision.” For it, she won Best Director at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival, making her the second woman to ever win in that category.

The daughter of Francis Ford Coppola and cousin of Nicolas Cage, Sofia belongs to a fabled Hollywood family. Collectively, the extended family members have been nominated for 29 Academy Awards and won 12. On her own, Sofia has won one and been nominated for three. That’s female empowerment.

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