The movie opens by telling us we're in 1864 Virginia, well into the Civil War. A young student of a mostly deserted girls' school finds an injured Union soldier in the woods and brings him back to the school. There the headmistress tends to his badly injured leg. As he recovers, the women become interested in him and he becomes interested in them.
This is directed by Sofia Coppola, and she loves her suppressed emotions. It works fairly well here, but it's a stylistic touch that's common to her movies. One of the things I liked least about the movie was the deliberate lack of colour: they were shooting in the American South, which is a vividly green place - but they seem to have shot entirely at dawn and dusk (and maybe at night) so the whole thing looks dingy.
I was interested to find that the Thomas P. Cullinan novel (A Painted Devil) that this was based on already has one movie interpretation, a 1971 movie starring Clint Eastwood with the same title as this one. This was, at the time, radically against type for Eastwood, and the movie wasn't a commercial success - although it's now considered a good movie. Wikipedia suggests the plots are nearly identical, but that Coppola wanted to make the movie from the women's point of view. It's made me curious about the Eastwood version - but probably not enough to go track it down.