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.
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 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.
Installé à La Nouvelle-Orléans, le pirate français Jean Laffite contrôle toute la région, et tente de rester neutre dans le conflit qui oppose Américains et Britanniques. Mais son amour pour la fille du gouverneur Clairborne va l'obliger à prendre parti et à s'engager au côté du général américain Andrew Jackson...
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.
In 1807, during the Napoleonic Wars, British Royal Navy Captain Horatio Hornblower (Gregory Peck) commands the 38-gun frigate HMS Lydia on a lengthy secret mission to Central America. He is to provide arms and support to a megalomaniac named Don Julian Alvarado, who is calling himself "El Supremo" or "The Almighty" (Alec Mango), in his rebellion against Spain, an ally of Britain's enemy France. As Hornblower observes to First Lieutenant Bush (Robert Beatty), "War breeds strange allies."
Secret agent Nina Maria Azara (Jeanette MacDonald) is working undercover for the King of Spain (Tom Rutherford) as a singer known as the "Mosca del Fuego" or "Firefly." Despite her love for Captain Andre (Allan Jones), she tricks him so that his general will change the French defensive positions, thus allowing the Duke of Wellington to win the Battle of Vitoria. In the end Nina and Andre leave together for a new life in peace.
The scenario of the film as originally written by Gance was published in 1927 by Librairie Plon. Much of the scenario describes scenes that were rejected during initial editing, and do not appear in any known version of the film. The following plot includes only those scenes that are known to have been included in some version of the film. Not every scene described below can be viewed today.
On the last day of 1770, youngster Jonathan Blake (Freddie Bartholomew) overhears two sailors discussing something suspicious in his aunt's ale-house in a Norfolk fishing village. He persuades his more respectable best friend, Horatio Nelson (Douglas Scott), to sneak aboard the sailors' ship with him. They overhear a plot involving insurance fraud. When Jonathan decides to warn the insurers, Horatio cannot accompany him, because that same day he is invited to join the Royal Navy as a midshipman. Jonathan walks all the way to London to Lloyd's Coffee House, where the insurers conduct their business. Mr. Angerstein (Guy Standing), the head of one of the syndicates that make up Lloyd's of London, listens to him. Instead of a monetary reward, Jonathan asks to work at Lloyd's as a waiter. Angerstein teaches him that news, "honestly acquired and honestly shared," is the lifeblood of the insurance industry.