The Beguiled (2017) - Plot Summary Poster



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  • The unexpected arrival of a wounded Union soldier at a girls school in Virginia during the American Civil War leads to jealousy and betrayal.

  • Three years into the American Civil War, in 1864, the dilapidated mansion of Miss Martha Farnsworth's Seminary for Young Ladies is still running, occupied by the matriarch, a teacher and five students in Spanish moss-draped Virginia. However, when a young student stumbles upon Corporal John McBurney, a wounded Union deserter on the verge of death, the already frail balance of things will be disrupted, as the hesitant headmistress decides to take him in to heal from his injury. Little by little, as the unwelcome guest arouses an uneasy sexual excitation among the women of the secluded boarding school, it is not before long that they will find themselves competing for the alluring man's favour. Undoubtedly, this handsome devil is a manipulator, nevertheless, will the ladies stay forever beguiled by his charm?

  • War-torn Virginia, 1864. A wounded Union soldier is found by a local girl and finds shelter at a girls' school. Their intention is to nurse him back to health and then send him on his way but over time the relationship becomes more complicated.

  • Martha Farnsworth runs a girls school in Virginia during the Civil War. By 1864, almost all of the students, teachers, and slaves have left; only five students and one teacher, Edwina Morrow, remain. While out in the woods searching for mushrooms, Amy, a pupil, comes across John McBurney, a corporal in the Union Army who was wounded in the leg during battle, and has since deserted. Amy brings McBurney to the school where he falls unconscious. The women lock McBurney in one of the rooms while Miss Farnsworth tends to his wounds. All the women and girls in the school are immediately fascinated by the handsome man..


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • A title card explains that the film is set during the American Civil War in 1863.

    A twelve-year-old girl, Amy (Oona Laurence), wanders through the woods collecting mushrooms. The war is happening in the far distance, off-screen. Faint sounds of cannon blasts can be heard. She stumbles upon John McBurney (Colin Farrell), a gravely wounded Irish corporal of the Union Army. He has a severe leg injury. He is bleeding out heavily through his wound.

    She explains she is a student at the Miss Martha Farnsworth Seminary for Young Ladies. Most of the teachers and students have left, and the slaves have run away during the war. Only five students, a teacher, and the headmistress remain at the school. McBurney convinces Amy to bring him to her school to have his wounds taken care of. He loses consciousness as Amy escorts him to her school.

    Miss Martha Farnsworth (Nicole Kidman), the headmistress of the school, reluctantly agrees to take the unconscious soldier in until he has built up his health. They keep him locked in their music room. Miss Martha and Miss Edwina (Kirsten Dunst), the teacher, clean him and tend to his injured leg. Martha stitches his leg to close the large wound.

    It becomes clear that the women at the school have been secluded from the outside world. Many of the girls are cautious, yet intrigued, by the presence of an enemy soldier. Alicia (Elle Fanning), a teenage student, develops an immediate attraction to McBurney.

    Some of the younger girls want him to be handed over to the Confederate Army. They struggle with the decision of whether to tie a blue rag on their gate to alert the Confederacy of a Union soldier in their presence. Martha decides that they will allow his leg to heal before they decide what they will do with him. Soon afterward, Confederate soldiers arrive at the school. Martha does not tell them that a Union soldier is on the premises.

    Even though McBurney is from the enemy group, each member of the household eventually grows fond of his presence. As he begins to heal, he does yard work for the women to win over their favor. Amy maintains a friendly and genial relationship with McBurney. The other young students (Angourie Rice, Emma Howard, and Addison Riecke) also fight for his attention and praise.

    McBurney charms Martha as she holds all the power in their household. Martha reciprocates some of the attention. She invites him to share some brandy at night. He explains that as an Irish soldier, he joined the Union Army for a cash inducement.

    Alicia is extremely flirtatious with McBurney. During an evening prayer, she sneaks away to kiss McBurney as he sleeps.

    McBurney makes several attempts to charm Edwina. She is a repressed woman and incredibly uncomfortable with sharing her feelings. He manages to get her to reveal that her greatest wish is to leave the school, where she feels trapped. She is stuck under Martha's power at the school.

    As he heals, Martha tells McBurney that he should leave their school as soon as he is well enough to do so. It is insinuated that McBurney does not want to return to the war. He tries to get into the women's good graces and allow him to stay. He senses Edwina's loneliness, seduces her, and tells her that he has fallen in love with her. He manipulates the women to serve his own interests. Much of what he says is all a con in order to stay at the school and continue to receive romantic attention.

    One night after dinner, he tells Edwina to wait for him in her bedroom. He does not appear, and she hears strange noises. She investigates and finds him in bed with Alicia. McBurney tries to calm Edwina down. In a fit of rage, Edwina pushes him away, and he falls two flights of stairs. His injured leg is further damaged.

    McBurney falls unconscious and is lifted by the women into the kitchen. The young girls are traumatized by the sight of McBurney's injury. Martha orders the girls return to their bedrooms and tells Edwina to bring her the human anatomy book. Martha decides that his leg must be amputated otherwise they risk further infection, or death.

    McBurney eventually wakes up to find that he has lost his leg. He is devastated and furious. He accuses the women, and especially Martha and Edwina of punishing him for turning down their advances. He increasingly shows aggression towards the women and terrifies them with his rage.

    Alicia enters McBurney's locked room. He grabs her hair and threatens her to get him the key to his room. She refuses and tells him she would get into trouble if she gave him the key. He then breaks out, and steals Martha's gun. He threatens them and kills Amy's pet turtle. He shoots the chandelier off the ceiling to further frighten them.

    Edwina finally defies Martha's rule. Despite Martha's orders, Edwina follows McBurney to his room. They have passionate sex.

    Meanwhile, Martha tries to find a solution for the current situation. McBurney is their prisoner, but now he is almost holding them hostage. Martha convinces the women that killing him is their only option. One of the students suggests serving McBurney some poisonous mushrooms. Excluding Edwina, the group agrees that they will host McBurney at a send-off dinner and kill him using poisonous mushrooms that Amy picked.

    At the dinner, McBurney apologizes for his actions. He and Edwina are the only ones to help themselves to the mushrooms. The girls stop Edwina before she can take a bite of the poisonous mushrooms. McBurney does not get suspicious and takes several mouthfuls of the mushrooms. He begins to choke and gasp for his breath. Edwina is troubled as the rest of the women are silently unconcerned. He falls to the floor and dies within seconds.

    The young girls sew McBurney's body into a shroud. Edwina looks on and is visibly devastated. The women drag his body to the road to let him be fetched by the next soldiers who come by. They finally tie a blue rag to the gate.

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