Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled is a simmering tale of repressed sexuality set in Virginia during the American Civil War.
Nicole Kidman stars as the dignified headmistress of Miss Martha Farnsworth’s seminary for young ladies, a remote island of feminity in a countryside torn by battle.
There are only two teachers and five students remaining at the school, all stranded there by the war.
The cloistered atmosphere is interrupted by the arrival of the wounded Corporal John McBurney, who was found by 11-year-old Amy (Oona Laurence) as she searched for mushrooms in the picturesque Virginian woods.
Though the wounded man is an enemy Unionist, Miss Martha agrees it would be only Christian to take him in and care for him until he is well enough to be handed over to the Republican soldiers.
As McBurney gets stronger, he sets about charming the girls and their teachers to persuade them to let him stay.
He treats Miss Martha with courteous respect, flirts with both the repressed teacher Edwina (Kirsten Dunst) and the precocious teenager Alicia (Elle Fanning), and plays the favourite uncle with the four younger girls (including up-and-coming Australian actress Angourie Rice).
In this pressure-cooker atmosphere the tension builds until it explodes in a sudden burst of violence.
This is a film in two parts. The early scenes are languorous and haunting, beautifully filmed by cinematographer Philippe Le Sound, with soft-edged pastels, shafts of sunlight in the woods, soft candle-light and artfully posed scenes of the girls and their teachers in long gowns and elaborate curls.
The only hints of the war are the distant boom of cannonfire and occasional puffs of smoke.
With a shocking change of pace the film almost degenerates into a potboiler as the storyline becomes more and more unbelievable.
But overall this is an intriguing and entertaining movie which earned Coppola the best director award at the Cannes Film Festival in May.
The Beguiled is now showing at Luna Leederville, Luna On SX and the Windsor.
Watch the trailer…