Denmark 1851. Young brothers Laust and Peter grow up in poor but safe conditions on the local estate in south Funen. As their father returns with other soldiers, victorious from a three-year war with Prussia, Laust and Peter become enamoured with the new estate manager's daughter, the beautiful and fearless Inge.
Political forces consider incorporating Schleswig into the Danish kingdom, contrary to the signed peace treaty. Prime Minister Monrad is inspired to patriotic eloquence by a perfomance of Macbeth, with the enticing Mrs Heiberg acting as his muse as the ruthless and manipulative Lady Macbeth.