Events take place in a French province at the end of 18th century.
It is afternoon, the Marquis Francois Xavier de Noayes has organised a large reception in his park.
People have gathered with their friends at small round tables for lunch.
The Count Bertrand de Villefort arrives accompanied by his daughter Louise.
The Marquis greets them and compliments Louise.
Louise, seeing her friends in the distance, asks her father’s permission to join them. Now alone with Villefort, Noayes asks for Louise’s hand in marriage. He insists that this would advance the interests of both families. Villefort promises to think about it.
Louise, having joined her friends, Manon and Apolline, complains of Noayes’s persistent stares which she finds irritating and unwelcome.
Elsewhere, the Marquis Philippe Baguy de Puyvallees is talking with two other young men.
This young aristocrat is handsome, insolent and impetuous. The kind who collects conquests. Nothing can put him off, he is always ready for a challenge.
Soon these three young men encounter Noayes. Count Jean Baptiste, one of the group, introduces Philippe to their host, Noayes, knowing Philipp’s reputation as a card player, invites him to come to his home the following evening for a game of Brelan (a card game popular at that time).
Then the young men parade around and show off in front of every young woman whose path they cross. When Henri de Belziac spots his cousin Louise in the distance, he leads his friends to meet her. He introduces Louise to Philippe.
Philippe tries to flatter Louise, but his attempts come to nothing. With his pride wounded, and also being ridiculed by his friends, Philippe is determined on one thing: the conquest of Louise becomes his over-riding goal.
Realising that Louise is indifferent to his usual charm offensive so he has no chance of conquering her this way, Philippe asks Henri to introduce him to Louise’s father. He believes the Count will be more interested in the proposal he intends to make.
Jean Baptiste introduces Philippe to the Count de Villefort. Philippe explains to him that he is leaving the court of Versailles because of the death of his father. He has inherited all of his father’s titles and lands. He will therefore settle permanently here and he intends to start a family. He explains that his meeting with Louise has overwhelmed him. He asks the Count for her hand in marriage.
Villefort tells Louise that he has received two marriage proposals for her today. Louise says that she doesn’t want to get married. Villefort discloses that he is in serious financial difficulties and that if she marries a rich man this will greatly help the family’s situation. He pressures his daughter to choose, now, between a young and an old Marquis. With no enthusiasm, and only to help her father, she reluctantly chooses Philippe.
Philippe and Louise have married. Philippe has quickly tired of his trophy wife and spends no time with her. He spends his evenings in places of debauchery or in private rooms around gambling tables. Louise is left to languish at home.
Manon de Monteront, Louise’s close friend, comes to invite her to a great reception given by her brother, Emilien, on the occasion of the return from the Americas of his friend, Marquis Charles de Ligeac de Vigonde. Vigonde has been recently decorated Captain of the Dragoons for his excellent and loyal service to Lafayette.
Manon finds Louise very depressed, she doesn’t want to go out and certainly not have fun and enjoy herself. She complains of her husband’s persistent absence after only a few months of marriage. She cannot even promise that he will be there to accompany her to this reception. Manon insists that Louise should come alone. Louise says she would be ashamed to appear at the reception without her husband and confirms the rumours that he is always gadding about and gambling. Manon convinces Louise that coming to the reception will cheer her up. Louise finally agrees to attend and accepts the invitation.
During the evening at the reception, Charles recounts his military exploits and life in the Americas. Louise is fascinated by the stories, and captivated by Charles’ charm.
Louise goes onto a balcony alone for some fresh air, Charles joins her. They instantly recognise that they are in love. For Louise the contrast between her husband’s behaviour and her feelings for Charles is so great that she throws caution to the wind. She succumbs to Charles’s pleas to let him see her again. Thus will be borne their secret liaison.
Louise is at her dying father’s bedside where he dies in her arms. Meanwhile her husband, Philippe is playing Brelan and loses a fortune. He owes more than he has on the table. Philippe does not have enough money to raise the bet but the rules do not allow him to fold. He asks for a waiver but Noayes refuses. Instead, Noayes, sensing the opportunity to finally both humiliate Philipp and satisfy his desire to possess Louise, proposes that if he wins the hand then he should spend a night with Louise. Philippe is confident that he can win the game and accepts this bet, but he loses. He signs a promissory note acknowledging the debt and asks for 24 hours before payment so he can mentally prepare Louise.
Charles comes to tell Louise that he is to be transferred to Versailles in the King’s service, and that he must leave in three days. They are distraught at the prospect of their separation, but Charles promises to find a solution that will put an end to Louise’s distress and to return soon. Suddenly Philippe returns unannounced and catches them by surprise. Charles just has time to hide behind the thick window curtains.
Louise goes to sit at her dressing table and prepares her hair for the night. Philippe is very nervous and tells her that he has lost everything and worse. He confesses to her that she was the stake in the game that he lost. They argue and tussle and in a reflex moment, Louise picks up a pair of scissor and stabs Philippe in the neck. Philippe collapses mortally wounded.
The maid runs in. Charles comes out of hiding to see Philippe die. He sends the maid to look for Manon. When Manon joins them, all three bend over Philippe’s body and discuss what to do. Louise wants to give herself in, but this would mean that she would be sentenced to death by the guillotine. Manon suggests that Louise flee abroad. But the lovers do not want to separate . Charles suggests that they move the body to a place where they can pretend there has been a duel between Philippe and himself. He is ready to sacrifice his career, and even his life for her. Louise rejects this suggestion. Charles suggests that the solution is to make the death appear to be suicide. This is credible because in losing the game of Brelan, Philippe had lost his honour.
The next day, Noayes comes to visit Louise to offer his condolences. He tells her that he is not taken in by the suggestion that Philipp’s death is suicide. He has in his possession Philippe’s promissory note acknowledging the debt. He tells Louise that if she does not honour it by spending the night with him, he will give the paper to the legal authorities. Louise replies that there is no proof that she knew of the terms of the debt, so she has no motive and there is therefore no reason to accuse her. On the other hand, she tells him, it is common knowledge that Philippe was an inveterate gambler and therefore his gambling debts and injured honour could very well be the reason for ending his will to live. People would believe that it was to preserve his wife’s honour that he took his own life. Further it was to spare her, that he left no note explaining his suicide. Noayes leaves defeated.
Charles returns and announces to Louise that he will not accept a transfer to Versailles and has decided that the two of them should rebuild their lives in the Americas.