2017 Certificate: 15

Synopsis

Shrouded in Sofia Coppola's trademark gauze, this remake of the Clint Eastwood classic casts Colin Farrell as John McBurney, the Civil War Union casualty who finds himself recuperating in the bosom of a Mississippi Seminary for Young Ladies run by the estimable Martha Farnsworth (Nicole Kidman). Naturally,  the raffish McBurney's arrival arouses interest, especially from uptight teacher Edwina (Kirsten Dunst) and hormonal teenage student Carol (Elle Fanning).

Director

  • Sofia Coppola

Cast

  • Nicole Kidman

  • Kirsten Dunst

  • Elle Fanning

  • Colin Farrell

  • Angourie Rice

  • Addison Riecke

Review

All that darkly handsome Union Army deserter John McBurney (Farrell) lacks when he's taken in by the flutter-eyed women of Nicole Kidman's Seminary For Young Ladies is a can of ice cold Diet Coke to complement his rippling torso.

Kidman and her six charges, including Kirsten Dunst's prickly teacher and Elle Fanning's flirtatious teen, are demurely drawn to the wounded trooper like the giggling office workers in the celebrated soft drink TV advert.

However, their sexual hankering for the glowering stranger will have consequences far beyond simple infatuation.

McBurney, a Dublin mercenary who joined the Union side in the Civil War, received a nasty leg gash for his trouble and is only saved when one of Kidman's younger girls comes across him lying under a tree while she's gathering mushrooms.

Helped back to the seminary's Deep South Palladian pile, he's nursed back to health by headmistress Martha Farnsworth (Kidman) and her second-in-command Edwina (Dunst), a spinsterish pair who both let slip that there is no man in their lives.

However, despite his polite attentions, it seems the roguish McBurney really has nubile Alicia (Fanning) in his lusty sights...and when he makes good of his less-than-gentlemanly attentions finds that the balance of power changes irrevocably.

Gone is the strong sex, incest, misogyny, lesbian fantasies and bloody carnage of director Don Siegel's 1971 version with Coppola opting for a tighter structure focussing on McBurney's swiftly changing fortunes as he deals with a type of Southern Belle you might expect to attend a Picnic At Hanging Rock.

It's not without its humour. Kidman demonstrates she's no slouch at comedy timing, particularly when events take a darker turn, and the transformation of the girls from butter-wouldn't-melt to psychosexual is handled with a witty flourish.

You'll be beguiled.

Tim Evans