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Like a sharp sword in a velvet sheath, writer-director Sofia Coppola's remake of the Civil War drama "The Beguiled" is delicately beautiful with a core of steel.

Adapted from Thomas Cullimore's novel, as was Don Siegel's 1971 movie starring Clint Eastwood, Coppola's version shows us the story from the women's point of view. There are seven women: five students at the mostly abandoned Farnsworth Seminary in rural Virginia, 1864, and two teachers, the headmistress Martha Farnsworth (Nicole Kidman) and the spinster teacher Edwina (Kirsten Dunst).

The students — ranging in age from the grade-schooler Marie (Addison Riecke) to the nearly adult Alicia (Elle Fanning) — are away from their families and shielded from the war raging just beyond the trees. They live on meager supplies and what they grow in the garden, as Miss Farnsworth has long since sent away the servants. (Some have criticized Coppola for not including an African-American character in a Civil War story, as Siegel's version did. Having her write such a character, in my mind, seems as problematic as omitting one.)

One day, while picking mushrooms, young Amy (Oona Laurence) comes across a wounded Union soldier. She helps the soldier, Cpl. John McBurney (Colin Farrell), back to the school, where Miss Farnsworth removes the bullet fragments from his leg and bandages his wounds.

Miss Farnsworth intends to send Cpl. McBurney on his way as quickly as his recovery will allow. It doesn't take long for this rare male visitor to have an effect on all the women in the school, particularly on the blossoming Alicia and the lovelorn Edwina.

Coppola draws strong performances from her mostly female cast. Among the child performers, Laurence ("Pete's Dragon") and Angourie Rice ("The Nice Guys") stand out, as does Fanning (who starred in Coppola's "Somewhere" when she was 12) as the sexually burgeoning Alicia. Dunst (who starred in Coppola's "The Virgin Suicides" and "Marie Antoinette") captures the pained yearning in Edwina's heart. And Kidman anchors the film with grace and gravity, a tower of strength masked by a soft whisper of a voice.

Coppola — who won the directing prize at last month's Cannes Film Festival — is in her element here, profiling sheltered young women riding the cusp of their sexual awakening. The Farnsworth girls have a spiritual kinship with the doomed sisters in "The Virgin Suicides" and the Snapchat-savvy teens in "The Bling Ring."

In "The Beguiled," Coppola moves with stealth, letting cinematographer Phillippe Le Sourd's camera soak in the oppressive Southern atmosphere as she gradually ratchets up the tension. She turns up the heat on this gumbo of sexual desire and violence so gradually that it's only near the end that the viewer realizes, as McBurney does, how hot it is in Miss Farnsworth's kitchen.

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'The Beguiled'

A Union soldier is taken in, in more ways than one, by the students and teachers of a Virginia girls' school in Sofia Coppola's haunting Southern Gothic thriller.

Where • Area theaters.

When • Opens Friday, June 30.

Rating • R for some sexuality.

Running time • 93 minutes.