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, while 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 the deceived and angry girls poison 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:
- All Women Are Lustful: The premise of the film, as a peaceful all girl's school suddenly gets turned on its head once a man is introduced into its gates. Carol is also a prime example as she seems to only engage with John on a flirtatious basis and takes care to unbutton her blouse when inviting John to a tryst in the attic after dark.
- And Call Him "George": Amy has a crow under her care, tethered to a balcony railing in the hopes that he soon heals from a damaged wing. It dies struggling to keep itself upright on the railing thanks to this short tether.
- Beautiful Slave Girl: Hallie is an attractive young woman, and John comments on her beauty. It's all but stated that Martha's brother forced himself on her too.
- Brother–Sister 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.
- Corrupt the Cutie: Poor Amy has to experience the heartbreak of being led on by a manipulative lecher like John, the details of which she doesn't quite understand. Once John kills her pet turtle Randall, all bets are off, and she readily agrees to pick poison mushrooms to feed to John. She also has no qualms with Edith eating the mushrooms once she announces she and John are going to get married.
- 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.
- 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.
- False Rape Accusation: Carol claims to the rest of the women that John forced himself on her. Amy of course readily believes it, but the likes of Ms. Martha and Edwina know first hand what Carol is capable of.
- Fille Fatale: Carol is the seventeen-year-old seductress who readily makes a move on John, even introducing herself with a kiss.
- Girlish Pigtails: As the youngest student in the all girl's school, Amy has a pair of these on, highlighting her youth.
- In Vino Veritas: A combination of wine and delirium from pain due to tumbling down a staircase and fracturing his bad leg causes John to comment lewdly on Ms. Martha.Don't be jealous. You're well bosomed too. Sweet, I'll tell you that. So round and perky.
- Karma Houdini: Carol nearly gets John captured out of jealousy and still sleeps with him, knowing of Edwina's interest in him, later claiming that he forced himself on her. She receives no punishment whatsoever.
- Madonna-Whore Complex: John bitterly insults Edwina after her shoving him down a staircase leads to his leg needing amputation, exasperated at her wanting to "play the lady, the virgin bitch."
- Patriotic Fervor: Doris is a proud young Confederate and shares much of the initial disdain towards John McBurney for being a Yankee soldier.
- Race Lift: Edwina is biracial in the book, but white in the film.
- Rape as Backstory: It's revealed that Hallie was raped by Martha's brother, if her flashback is anything to go by.
- Servile Snarker: Hallie doesn't have a problem talking back to the girls or indeed to Martha when she can help it.
- Troubling Unchildlike Behavior: After spending most of the movie being an innocent child not understanding John's manipulation, Amy shows no remorse to killing John and is proud of it, believing it just for him killing her turtle.
- Unreliable Voiceover: John tells Ms. Martha that he did not carry a gun on the battlefield and that he was wounded when he was helping a Confederate soldier. At the same time, a Flashback shows what really happened: John was lying in ambush and shooting at Confederate soldiers when he was shot.
- 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 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.
- Adapted Out: Hallie is left out of this, due to Sofia Coppola's reluctance to portray a slave character.
- Book Ends: The opening and closing shot show the tranquil of the manor.
- Idiot Ball: On the exact same night he first asks Edwina to be allowed into her room, John goes to sleep with another girl instead. Of course Edwina was not going to sleep and was more alert to what was going on in the house. This all resulted in his downfall, both literally and figuratively.
- 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.
- Mood Whiplash: The film's tone goes from pleasant and genteel to horrific pretty fast.
- Morality Pet: Amy for Corporal McBurney.
- Phantom Limb Pain: Clint Eastwood's character loses a leg after a fall (push) down the stairs. He doesn't believe the women who tell him this, initially, because of the phantom pains.
- Pragmatic Adaptation: The film significantly reduces the number of girls that John meets, with only one being a teenager, allowing more exploration of the cast while getting rid of the disturbing pedophilic overtones the novel and 1971 film had.
- Too Dumb to Live: In spite of being in enemy territory, John goes out of his way to manipulate the women and girls who care for him and keep him safe and hidden. If he had just been charming, he would likely have survived, but he agreed to meet up with two of them on the same night. Then, after his leg was amputated and being even more vulnerable, he alienates the women and girls further with his jerkass behavior to the point that they believed that keeping him alive was a danger to them.
- Unspoken Retort: One of the girls vehemently thinks to herself that not tying the blue ribbon to the gate to alert Confederate soldiers to the presence of a wounded Union soldier is out and out treason.