If you go into Sofia Coppola’s newest film expecting your typical historical melodrama, you might be pleasantly surprised to find The Beguiled is anything but.

Fitted out with laced dresses, pretty women and dashing soldiers to boot, there is an essence almost comparable to that of Pride and Prejudice and other luscious period pieces. But all that quickly dissipates when the fairy tale story unveils its darker premise.

Director Coppola takes audiences on a dive through gripping sexual tensions, the consequences of deceit, and internal battles of doing what is right versus doing what is good.

Set in a Southern American boarding school during the Civil War, 11-year-old Amy (Oona Laurence) stumbles upon wounded Corporal McBurney (Colin Farrell), who had fled battle to seek refuge in the nearby forest.

Like she would tend to a wounded bird, Amy takes the soldier inside the gates of the school where the headmistress, Martha Farnsworth (Nicole Kidman), agrees to care for the soldier’s wounds before sending him on his way.

All the women in the house, including teacher Edwina (Kirsten Dunst) and four other students (Elle Fanning, Angourie Rice, Addison Riecke and Emma Howard) welcome the man in, along with a touch of danger and excitement to their otherwise rigid day.

Faced with the reality of being sent back to battle and his very likely death, McBurney plots and ploys with the women in an attempt to save his own life. Growing affection towards him sets the women on paths of deceit and jealousy before tensions reach fever pitch and the story takes a sinister turn.

Coppola has made the effort to pay homage to the dangers of sexual repression, as seen in the 1966 Thomas Cullinan novel A Painted Devil, and its 1971 on-screen adaptation starring Clint Eastwood.

Although Coppola adds wit and a sense of ridicule to the notion of these helpless women lusting over the first man they come across, she also acknowledges their resourcefulness, skills, and talents. These aren’t weak women, but circumstances have rendered them desperate ones.

This film is no exception to the ethereal cinematography and dreamlike atmospheres that has defined Coppola’s oeuvre. The overgrown shrubs and fog that surround the boarding school mixed with the orange glow of a rising sun makes for a beautiful setting in juxtaposition to a dark, twisted plot.

The Beguiled is a thoughtful and enthralling psychodrama that takes expected gender behaviours in the late 1800s and challenges that with intelligent performances and the direction of, arguably, one of the best filmmakers of our generation.

Read our review of 20th Century Women here.