During The American Civil War, a wounded "Yankee" soldier is found by a group of women in a seminary, and taken in and cared for. The new presence of a man in a group of Catholic women creates all sorts of (sexual) tension, which leads to scenes of rivalry between the women. Add in the moral dilemma of taking in a soldier who fights for the wrong side, and the fact that the women are all in different stages of womanhood, and you get the powder keg situation that is The Beguiled.
There are two different film adaptations of the story, which was originally a 1966 novel by Thomas P. Cullinan. The 1971 film was directed by Don Siegel and starred Clint Eastwood as the wounded soldier. The 2017 film was directed by Sofia Coppola, and featured Colin Farrell as the soldier.
Both versions of the film contain examples of:
- Composite Character: In both film versions, Edwina is a composite of two characters in the novel: Edwina Morrow, a teenage student who falls in love with John, and Harriet Farnsworth, a teacher at the school (and Miss Martha's sister.)
- Downer Ending: The story ends with the infamous death of John after deceived and angry girls poisoned him.
- Florence Nightingale Effect: The central plot point. A soldier is found, wounded, and the three ladies fall in love with him. Might be somewhat different than the classic case since there's a general lack of men in the seminary.
- Grey-and-Gray Morality: Each character in the story has a bad and good side, and the perception of the audience depends on who you are more sympathetic to.
- Sex Equals Love: Averted. The film clearly demonstrates that a romantic relationship with a stranger that began with sex, will not lead to anything good.
The 1971 film provides examples of:
- BrotherSister Incest: The film very strongly implies that Marta was in an incestuous relationship with her brother, in particular, taking off her pants from John. The maid says "do not be afraid, there he is no different from your brother", and John himself understands the nature of their relationship after reading their letters to each other.
- Covers Always Lie: Due to the fact that on the cover of the film Eastwood is depicted in a hat and with a revolver, many mistakenly thought that this was a classic western.
- Enfant Terrible: As it turns out in the epilogue, Amy is proud that John died because of her poisonous mushrooms, after which she even smiles, looking at the viewer.
- On the other hand, she was actually a kind-heated young girl, who unfortunately ended up becoming a victim of Mc Burney, who both led her on romantically and killed her beloved pet turtle.
- Ensemble Cast: Although the movie's advertisement concentrates on the character of Clint Eastwood, in fact there is no main character in the film and the whole plot concentrates on everyone else.
- Ur-Example: The first film was released just a few years before the first works in the Harem Genre appeared in Japan.
The 2017 film provides examples of:
- Adaptational Nice Guy: Mcburney is portrayed more sympathetically in this version.
- YMMV - John certainly is polite and sympathetic ... and a Manipulative Bastard in the extreme.
- Adaptational Heroism: The novel and Siegel's film imply that Miss Martha amputates John's leg out of vindictive jealously for him sleeping with Alicia, whereas in this version it comes across more as a genuine last resort measure that she does reluctantly.
- Kick the Dog: John throws Amy's pet tortoise across the room when confronting the women.
- Manipulative Bastard: John is awfully attentive to the ladies, finding shrewd ways of flattering them individually and making each of them think he has a particular interest in them in order to better manipulate them. On the more subtle end, he compliments Miss Martha's intelligence and implies he's sexually interested in her, while he finds a way to take Amy aside and tell her she's the "best friend" he has in the school and he owes her his life. To Edwina he baldly states during their first meeting that she is the most delicate beauty he has ever encountered, and all the while he's quite happily trying to sleep with Alicia.
- Pragmatic Adaptation: The 2017 film significantly reduces the number of girls that John meets and at the same time, and leaves only one teenage girl, making the story deeper and ignoring the disturbing pedophilic overtones.