Corporal John McBurney (Colin Farrell) is an injured Union soldier in the Civil War, who is on the run after he fleeing his regiment at the height of battle – an unmanly act of which he is ashamed.
Now a deserter, he is terrified of being caught and shot by either side.
When he is discovered in a neighbouring woodland by an eleven year old Miss Amy (Oona Laurence), he persuades her to take him to the all-female Southern boarding school.
Principal Martha (Nicole Kidman) and her subordinate Edwina (Kirsten Dunst) are dismayed.
But moved by his plight and the opportunity fate has offered them to demonstrate Christian charity, and the conviction the war is all but over, they give him refuge.
The teachers and students tend to his wounds and provide companionship.
Soon sexual tensions lead to dangerous rivalries, and taboos are broken in an unexpected turn of events.
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