Wednesday, 5 July 2017

The Beguiled (3½ Stars)

"Strong women with great passion".

That's the tagline of the film for the German cinema release. Obviously that's enough to draw me into the cinema, despite seeing Nicole Kidman's name on the posters. She's the A-List actress that I like the least, and I usually avoid any film she appears in.

The film starts on the same theme as "Wonder Woman", which I watched two days ago. A wounded soldier is found by a woman, and he's taken into an all-female community to be healed. That's where the similarity ends. From then on they're very different films. In "Wonder Woman" it's a British pilot fleeing the Germans in 1916 who accidentally finds his way to the island home of the Amazons. In "The Beguiled" it's a Union soldier in 1864 who has deserted after being wounded and is hiding in the woods near a girls' boarding school in Virginia.

The soldier is Corporal John McBurney, an Irish immigrant who enlisted to fight for the Union army because he needed the money. After being shot in the leg he has left the battlefield to avoid even greater injuries. A young girl called Amy finds him and takes him back to her school, the Martha Farnsworth Seminary for Young Ladies. Officially the school has closed down because the war is raging nearby, but five of the girls had no home to return to, so the school's owner, Miss Farnsworth, and one of the teachers, Edwina Morrow, have remained to look after them. Judging by their appearances, the girls are aged between 10 and 16.

The soldier's arrival in the school causes a lot of excitement. He flirts with Miss Farnsworth and Miss Morrow. All the girls are interested in him, even the youngest, in a childlike way. As he regains his strength it becomes more than flirting. At first this makes the women and girls jealous of one another, but then they unite against him to take revenge.

Are the women strong? (I'll use the word "women" to include all the females, even the youngest girls). For most of the film they aren't. They're creatures of a past age, enslaved by moral correctness. It's true that they have great passion, but they are expected to conceal it. They kneel and pray to God rather than doing what they want. Only the oldest girl, Alicia, has the courage to express what she desires, which is why the corporal finds her more appealing than the women. When the women turn against one another in jealousy they're weak. It's only when they finally unite against the corporal that they find strength in numbers.

The film has a certain appeal, but I found it overall dissatisfying. Wonder Woman is a powerful woman that I can admire. Miss Farnsworth, Miss Morrow and their girls aren't.

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