THE BEGUILED — Review by Susan Wloszczyna

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the beguiled posterThe original 1971 “The Beguiled” pitted Clint Eastwood’s wounded Union solider Corp. John McBurney against the residents of a Southern girls’ school during the Civil War who treat him like a prisoner while fantasizing how he could be the man of their dreams. This handsome and wily manipulator seems to know his effect on the woman folk from the opening scene as he steals a kiss from the 12-year-old student who has found him. As directed by Don Siegel, the jealousies and rivalries that develop are deliberately stirred up by Eastwood’s male interloper who acts like a rooster in a hen house who can’t fly away. This is clearly a war of the sexes, and despite igniting an ongoing catfight atmosphere, his McBurney fails to see he is outnumbered nine to one, including a head mistress, a teacher, a slave and six students. Continue reading…

But in writer-director Sofia Coppola’s hands, Colin Farrell’s fallen warrior mostly does what he can to ingratiate himself with the female inhabitants in order to fully heal and then take his leave despite being a mercenary Rebel soldier. Of course, he curries their favor by fulfilling whatever male role they need him to assume. Father figure, lover, gentleman suitor, intellectual equal, handy man, friend – he is their male fantasy in the flesh at a time when most men were otherwise engaged. But from the start, he is clearly underestimating the power of the sisterhood shared by these members of the opposite sex. Unlike the original “Beguiled,” which was more erotic, pulpy and vengeful, Coppola presents an intoxicating portrait of feminine fortitude in the face of hard times where the women find a reason to once again don their Sunday best for their guest while vying to catch his attention. With all the candlelight, music, fine dining and beautiful gowns, it’s as if they are all on a group date with this man in the midst. But when Farrell’s McBurney attempts to juggle too many wish fulfillments at once, he loses their trust and emboldens their need to re-affirm their commitment to one another.

Both films are worthy. The Siegel version is more of a Southern gothic horror story, while Coppola twists the details to better present a strong and purposeful female point of view. Hers is a twisted fairy tale where the women save themselves and serve their Big Bad Wolf with the fate he deserves so that they can survive.

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Susan Wloszczyna

In her nearly 30 years at USA Today, Susan Wloszczyna interviewed everyone from Vincent Price and Shirley Temple to Julia Roberts and Will Smith. Her coverage specialties include animation, musicals, comedies and any film starring Hayley Mills, Sandy Dennis or hobbits. Her crowning career achievements so far, besides having Terence Stamp place his bare feet in her lap during an interview for The Limey, is convincing the paper to send her to New Zealand twice for set visits, once for The Return of the King and the other for The Chronicles of Narnia and King Kong, and getting to be a zombie extra and interview George Romero in makeup on the set for Land of the Dead. Though not impressive enough for Pulitzer consideration, she also can be blamed for coining the moniker "Frat Pack," often used to describe the comedy clique that includes Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn and Will Ferrell. Her positions have included Life section copy desk chief for four years and a film reviewer for 12 years. She is currently a senior editor for the online awards site Gold Derby. Previously, she has been a freelance film reporter and critic, contributing regularly to RogerEbert.com, MPAA’s The Credits, the Washington Post, AARP The Magazine online and Indiewire as well as being a book reviewer for The Buffalo News. She previously worked as a feature editor at the Niagara Gazette in Niagara Falls, N.Y. A Buffalo native, she earned her bachelor's degree in English at Canisius College and a master's degree in journalism from Syracuse University.