The film takes place in May of 1805, during the Napoleonic Wars. Captain "Lucky Jack" Aubrey of HMS Surprise is ordered to pursue the French privateer Acheron, and "Sink, Burn, or take her as a Prize." As the film opens, the British warship is ambushed by Acheron; Surprise is heavily damaged, while its own cannon fire does not penetrate the enemy ship's hull. Using smaller boats, the crew of Surprise tow the ship into a fog bank and evade pursuit. Aubrey learns from a crewman who saw Acheron being built that it is heavier and faster than Surprise, and the senior officers consider the ship out of their class. Aubrey notes that such a ship could tip the balance of power in Napoleon's favour if allowed to plunder the British whaling fleet at will. He orders pursuit of Acheron, rather than returning to port for repairs. Acheron again ambushes Surprise, but Aubrey slips away in the night by using a clever decoy buoy and ships lamps.
Wilhelm Grimm (Matt Damon) and Jakob Grimm (Heath Ledger) arrive in French-occupied Germany during the early 1800s. They go to Karlstadt to rid the town of a witch's ghost. After killing the "ghost", it is revealed that the Brothers Grimm have actually set up a fake witch to trick the town. Afterwards, as they are celebrating, Italian torturer Mercurio Cavaldi (Peter Stormare) takes them to the French General Delatombe (Jonathan Pryce). Delatombe forces them to solve a mystery: The girls of the small village of Marbaden are disappearing, and the villagers are convinced that supernatural beings are responsible. The Grimms are charged with finding who is responsible, and they soon discover that it is the work of a real supernatural force: a beautiful, yet evil, 500-year-old Thuringian Queen (Monica Bellucci) stealing young girls to restore her own beauty. Will and Jake have a complicated relationship; Jake is the smaller, younger, more sensitive one that Will feels he needs to protect. Will is often very hard on Jake (dating all the way back to their childhood, when Jake spent their money that was to be used for medicine for their dying sister on "magic beans") and orders him around. Will is somewhat of a womanizer and wants to make money, whereas Jake is more interested in fairy tales and adventures. Jake feels that Will doesn't care about or believe in him; but Will is just frustrated about the way Jake acts so spontaneously, making it hard for Will to protect him.
The film begins during the French Revolution, with the aged Marquis d'Apcher as the narrator, writing his memoirs in a castle, while the voices of a mob can be heard from outside. The film flashes back to 1764, when a mysterious beast terrorized the province of Gévaudan and nearby lands.
Fourteen-year-old Maria Antonia Josephina Johanna Habsburg (Kirsten Dunst) is the beautiful, charming, and naive archduchess of Austria, youngest of Empress Maria Theresa's (Marianne Faithfull) daughters. In 1770, the only one left unmarried among her sisters, she is sent by her mother to marry the Dauphin of France, the future Louis XVI of France (Jason Schwartzman), to seal an alliance between the two rival countries. Marie Antoinette travels to France, relinquishing all connections with her home country, including her pet Pug "Mops", and meets the King Louis XV of France (Rip Torn) and her future husband, Louis Auguste. The two arrive at the Palace of Versailles, which was built by the King's great-grandfather. They are married at once, and are encouraged to produce an heir to the throne as soon as possible; but the next day it is reported to the king that "nothing happened" on the wedding night.
The film is a parody of the historical spectacular film genre anthology, including the sword and sandal epic and the period costume drama subgenres. The four main segments consist of stories set during the Stone Age, the Roman Empire, the Spanish Inquisition, and the French Revolution. Other intermediate skits include reenactments of the giving of the Ten Commandments and the Last Supper.
When Napoleon (James Tolkan) invades Austria during the Napoleonic Wars, Boris Grushenko (Woody Allen), a coward and pacifist scholar, is forced to enlist in the Russian Army. Desperate and disappointed after hearing the news that Sonja (Diane Keaton), his cousin twice removed, is to wed a herring merchant, he inadvertently becomes a war hero. He returns and marries the recently widowed Sonja, who does not want to marry Boris, but promises him that she will when she thinks that he is about to be killed in a duel. Their marriage is filled with philosophical debates, and no money. Their life together is interrupted when Napoleon invades the Russian Empire. Boris wants to flee but his wife, angered that the invasion will interfere with their plans to start a family that year, conceives a plot to assassinate Napoleon at his headquarters in Moscow. Boris and Sonja debate the matter with some degree of philosophical double-talk, and Boris reluctantly goes along with it. They fail to kill Napoleon and Sonja escapes arrest while Boris is executed, despite being told by a vision that he will be pardoned.
1802, London. The mysterious Lord Steyne (Gabriel Byrne) goes to a painter's studio where he has agreed to buy a painting of a young woman. The young Rebecca "Becky" Sharp (Angelica Mandy), then a girl of ten, insists on having ten guineas, instead of four guineas, as the price of the painting. The painter explains that the model in the painting is Becky's mother, the painter's late wife. Steyne agrees to pay the higher amount and leaves with the painting. The young Becky is seen moving to Miss Pinkerton's Academy for Young Ladies after her father's death.
En 1805 à Moscou, les défilés militaires, les fêtes et les bals se succèdent à la cour de Russie du Tsar Alexandre Ier de Russie, bien que les 200 000 hommes de la grande armée dominatrice de l'empereur Napoléon Ier aient envahi toute l'Europe et s'approchent chaque jour un peu plus de la capitale.
In 1792, Spain reels amid the turmoil and upheaval of the French Revolution. Francisco Goya (Stellan Skarsgård) is a renowned painter, who, among others, does portraits for the royal family as the Official Court Painter to the King and Queen.
During the Peninsular War, Napoleon's armies overrun Spain. An enormous cannon, belonging to a Spanish army, is abandoned when it slows down the army's retreat. French cavalrymen are dispatched to retrieve it.
In 1789, on the eve of the French Revolution, the court at the Palace of Versailles still live their routines, relatively unconcerned by the increasing turmoil in Paris a mere twenty miles away. The routines are seen through the eyes of the young Sidonie Laborde, who serves Queen Marie Antoinette.
In 1794, in Marseille, Désirée Clary (Jean Simmons) makes the acquaintance of a Corsican named Joseph Bonaparte (Cameron Mitchell) and invites him and his brother, General Napoleon Bonaparte (Marlon Brando), to call upon the family the following day. The next day, Julie (Elizabeth Sellars), Désirée's sister and Joseph are immediately attracted to each other, and Napoleon is taken with Désirée. He admits to her that the poor Bonaparte brothers need the rich dowries of the Clary sisters. Later, Désirée learns that Napoleon has been arrested and taken to Paris.
In 1814, after 20 years of military glory Napoleon Bonaparte, the Emperor of France, faces defeat at hands of the sixth coalition, the forces of Britain, Austria, Prussia and Russia. Facing certain defeat, Napoleon's marshals gather and demand that he abdicate. At first Napoleon violently refuses, but after hearing of the surrender of his last army he agrees.