Between “The Virgin Suicides” and “Marie Antoinette,” it was already quite clear that Sofia Coppola loves watching Kirsten Dunst struggle to make peace with some kind of purgatory. In “The Beguiled,” the mustiest and most conventionally entertaining film of Coppola’s brilliant career, Dunst is once again cast as a woman with so much to give and nowhere to go, but this is the first of her characters who actually has a legitimate hope of escaping from her limbo.
Alas, peace can be hard to come by in the middle of a war, and freedom even harder. And if Edwina Dabney wants to get herself out of the Confederacy, she might have to let the Union inside first.
Ruthlessly shorn from Thomas P. Cullinan’s 1966 novel of the same name (and not remade from the Don Siegel adaptation that first brought its story to the screen), “The Beguiled” is a lurid, sweltering, and sensationally fun potboiler that doesn’t find Coppola leaving her comfort zone so much as redecorating it with a fresh layer of soft-core scuzz. The year is 1864, the Civil War still rages on despite the outcome growing more certain by the day, and — somewhere amidst the unloved willow trees that surround the Great Dismal Swamp of southeastern Virginia — seven women of various ages are cooped up in a schoolhouse like chickens waiting to be plucked.