Sofia Coppola's gorgeously filmed, stiflingly atmospheric reimagining of the American Civil War-era drama The Beguiled is fascinating, intoxicating and darkly amusing, with a subtle undercurrent of menace.
The story, which is taken from Thomas P Cullinan's 1966 novel of the same name, was previously depicted on the big screen in Don Siegel's 1971 gothic drama, which saw Clint Eastwood in the starring role of a wounded Union soldier who is taken under the wings of a group of women at an all-female boarding school.
In her retelling of The Beguiled, Coppola turns the tables and puts the emphasis on the female characters and how the arrival of the scoundrel soldier stirs up their emotions and disrupts their genteel existence.
The youngest member of the boarding school, Amy (Oona Laurence), comes upon the injured Corporal John McBurney - played in pitch-perfect fashion by a smouldering Colin Farrell - while foraging in the woods. He has deserted the war after sustaining a serious leg injury and quickly worms his way into her affections, convincing her to bring him back to the safety of her home at the boarding school.
Here, matriarch Miss Martha (Nicole Kidman) is alarmed by the corporal's unexpected and unwanted arrival but decides it's the good Christian thing to allow him to safely convalesce with them. Soon, it becomes obvious that her decision may have also been influenced by her attraction to the young, dashing man - she seems quite overcome as she cleans his wound and washes his body.
The pragmatic, flinty Miss Martha isn't the only resident who is captivated by this "most unwelcome visitor", and the other women dust off their Sunday best and begin to compete for his attention.
Chief among them is the stern, melancholy Edwina (Kirsten Dunst), who makes it clear to the corporal that she wants nothing more than to escape this dreary place. The petulant, flirtatious teen Alicia (Elle Fanning) is also a key player in his dangerous game of seduction as John McBurney tries desperately to insinuate his way into their affections and land a less transient position at the boarding school.
In the capable hands of The Virgin Suicides and Lost in Translation director Coppola, the story is given plenty of heft, and she manages to wrestle moments of humour from the melodramatic situation, none more so than during the dinner party scenes which crackle with innuendo and sexual tension. She excels in creating an atmosphere of heavy uneasiness and effortlessly ratchets up the menace as the plot proceeds.
There is some mirth to be had from Colin Farrell's roguish Irish accent among the honeyed Southern drawl of the ladies, which is slightly deflated once it is tidily explained that McBurney is a mercenary not long off the boat from Dublin.
Although I wish they had just not addressed that elephant in the room, Coppola makes many more clever decisions in this sumptuous, simmering drama, which is expertly paced, handsomely shot and rammed with commanding performances. Beguiling indeed.