News day / The women and girls must decide whether they should let the soldier die, give him to the southern Confederate army or hide him and nurse him back to health. His presence disturbs the house in unimaginable ways, stirring up resentment and sexual tension while testing the girls and women’s Christian resolve and basic sense of decency. The twists and turns in the story are unimaginable.

Clearly the Union soldier, Corporal John McBurney, plays with everyone’s emotions, but the question is why? He wants to remain in the house, so is he merely trying to survive? Does he get a perverse sense of joy from toying with the girls and women’s emotions? I suspect no two people will have the same take on the corporal’s motives — or the women’s for that matter.

For once, I saw the movie, now showing at MovieTowne, before I read the book. This allowed me to enjoy director Sophia Coppola’s interpretation of the novel without being peeved about the changes she made.

Coppola says she stuck to the book published in 1966 more than the first movie version in 1971, which starred Clint Eastwood, but she too made many changes.

Although Coppola maintains the sour attitude of Edwina Morrow, Coppola transforms Edwina from a young student in the book to a teacher in the movie. She scraps the character of Matilda Farnsworth, Martha’s sister, and eliminates the role of the woman slave who stayed behind.

Coppola claimed that the topic of slavery was far too important to include as a small role in the movie.

Coppola did stick to the book by casting Irish actor Colin Farrell to play the part of Cpl McBurney, an Irish mercenary fighting for the Union. Colin Farrell succeeds in creating many conflicting emotions including pity, hope, contempt and anger while setting up sexually charged scenes, which are tastefully done.

In the book, each person provides her point of view of events, making this an invaluable exercise in narration, characterisation, tone and mood. I found the rich description and details of the book to be fascinating.

Notably absent in the book is a chapter giving the corporal’s point of view, but Coppola makes up for this by offering scenes, such as the dinner table scene that is filmed from the corporal’s perspective.

Nicole Kidman deserves an Oscar nomination for her riveting interpretation of the school’s headmistress Miss Martha.

As many people have pointed out, Kidman’s uncanny ability to portray many emotions at the same time in this film are simply brilliant.

She can be both troubled and manipulative; refined and catty; humorous and profound at any given moment.

Australian-born Kidman, who has been living in Nashville, Tennessee since marrying musician Keith Urban does an admirable job of portraying a refined southern woman battered by the Civil War.

The Beguiled is a rare treat for a period piece because it offers such insight into characterisation with tension at every turn thanks to the complicated characters.


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