Oh, to be beguiled by the likes of Colin Farrell. If this Irish gentleman with a stroke of mischief has not already given himself away by the casting alone, then what does Sofia Coppola’s new feature based on Thomas P. Cullinan.’s book of the same name leave to the imagination?
Certainly a strong cast led by the hospitable yet formidable headmistress Martha Farnsworth (Nicole Kidman). Among her pupils is the rebellious Alicia (Elle Fanning), the cautious Jane (Angourie Rice) and the delightfully playful and whimsical talents of Oona Lawrence.
From the beginning the mood is of a veiled, voyeuristic tone. We sense that the slow burn of a wounded Civil War soldier will surface in the repressed sexuality of these ladies, yet this is teased in unexpected and even comical ways. Nicole Kidman wavers between charmingly warm and fiercely cold personas, showcasing the depth of her character, with the rest of the cast’s anxieties about the duplicitous nature of their handsome guest surfacing in similar fashion. The dinner scene with each lady in her Sunday best is served well to ease the tension through comic relief, yet the same suspicions across two hours in a mood can feel as drawn out as the war.
As the name suggests, we are enchanted as easily as we are duped by the soldier and the very girls who seem all too keen to let him stay.
Despite the Southern Civil War timeframe, this movie has a poignancy that is very timely for today. How we treat enemies on the ‘other side,’ and what we are led to believe about what it is that we fight for. Against the backdrop of the horrors of war, the convalescent tone is aided by the willowy woods that are grimy, yet display a beauty that is tucked away, just like these girls. Kirsten Dunst’s Edwina is a direct embodiment of this entrapment, and her yearning nature places her character as the most pure and genuine of heart in her motivations.
These women are not as innocent and sheltered as they seem, the rivalries are not mere petty schoolgirl tiffs and the tone dually jabs and scrapes away at the flesh. Aside from the claustrophobic atmosphere and the limited 93 minute duration to adequately uncover more of what the talent cast has to offer, you too will wonder what effect these women have had on you by the end of the school day.