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In a theater, black and white film shows a race between two old cars. Number 15 wins the race, and the winner, Larita Whittaker (Jessica Biel), is gracious about her victory. She sees her fiancé, John (Ben Barnes) in the crowd and smiles at him lovingly before waving to the crowd. The next scene is the two of them dancing together in an exotic locale after their marriage.

In a rural mansion somewhere in England, John’s family is sitting at the table having breakfast. His sisters Marion and Hilda are cutting out news of Larita’s victory from their father, Colonel Jim Whittaker’s (Colin Firth) paper. As the Colonel continues to read, his wife Veronica (Kristin Scott Thomas) enters discussing seating arrangements for an upcoming dinner. Veronica shows disdain for Larita by calling her John’s floozy. Hilda delivers a telegram from town. The Colonel reads it and tells Hilda that his wife will be “pleased.”

The colonel enters the next room to hear Veronica proclaiming that her son is a “stupid, stupid, stupid boy” and throwing fragile vases to the ground. He has married Larita, much to his mother’s displeasure. Veronica is stressed but notices that The Colonel is smirking, which further aggravates her. While the sisters pour over the letter, Veronica calls their servant Furber to clean up the mess she made.

John and Larita drive to the family’s “rural cottage.” Larita, who was driving, switches seats for appearances sake and asks about how deep the mote is (she’s afraid of swimming). They arrive and after hugging his family, John introduces Larita to them. Veronica is horrified that Larita is American, while The Colonel is welcoming, since he fought alongside Americans during “the war” (assumed to be World War I). They go inside and John gives his family a gramophone so that they can listen to music. The Colonel and Larita talk in French. Veronica comments on how she doesn’t speech French, and then tells John to take her upstairs to the room.

Larita asks John why she didn’t tell her mother about their marriage but John says one bombshell at a time. Larita asks how long their staying, and John tells her a few days. He takes her to his room, where she is less than pleased to see all the creepy toys, but they end up fooling around. When John comes down, The Colonel pulls him aside and tells him he’s proud of John for marrying Larita. Veronica asks John how long a few days is, and he expresses his desire to get his own home with Larita. Veronica tells him that Sarah and Phillip, two people John has a history with.

Sarah, John’s best friend and ex-girlfriend, and Phillip, her crippled brother, arrive. John tells her that his marriage happened so fast that he couldn’t write to tell Sarah about it. He tells her he’s happy, so Sarah forgives him. Hilda, who is in love with Phillip, says hello. Her dress is caught on the banister and Larita helps her. Phillip, who was impressed with Hilda, is blown away by Larita. Hilda is a little disappointed but offers to help Phillip to the dining room.

After dinner, Larita complains about the food to John. She tells John that Veronica hates him and that she likes the Colonel. John tells Larita that the Colonel didn’t come straight home after the war and went through Italy and France drinking and having affairs until he came stumbling back. John quietly tries to seduce her in his room and the two have sex. Unfortunately, the whole house can hear them.

The next morning, during breakfast, Larita suggests that she and Veronica try and get to know each other. Larita tells her about how she grew up and love of animals. She mentions that this is not her first marriage. Her first husband died and they didn’t have any children. Larita tells Veronica that her racing is her sole source of income but Veronica is very closed to that idea since John was raised on the farm and cannot work in the city. Larita wants the marriage to work well for everyone, but Veronica is adamantly against it.

Larita starts sneezing around hay when John shows the neighboring farms his adjustments to a tractor he was working on. Furber and the other servants are discussing their hatred of Veronica and how much they like Larita when Larita walks in. She requests that she make her own breakfast in the morning. Then Veronica enters the room scolding the cooks and servants for not coming to her when she rang them. Veronica then pulls Larita aside and tells her not to talk to the staff, since Veronica is having a hard enough time controlling them as is. John asks her to play tennis, but Larita doesn’t want to.

Larita observes Hilda, Sarah and John playing tennis while Phillip makes sarcastic comments. Larita tries to smoke, but Veronica tells her not to. Larita then goes to see The Colonel working on a motorbike in an outhouse. The Colonel asks about her first marriage, and Larita tells her about how her husband was dying of cancer and that when he died, she was a little relieved. The Colonel responds by saying “God is a comedian, telling jokes to an audience too afraid to laugh.” Larita asks The Colonel about the last time he was in France. The Colonel explains that he was on a “personal reconnaissance” to determine why so many young men died under his command. He claims to be of the “Lost generation” but doesn’t know exactly what he lost.

While in the library, Larita finds an old photograph of the Colonel and Veronica from when they were first married. While reading the book, the family Chihuahua barks at her. John asks Larita to play tennis but Larita tosses the ball at him and jokingly says if she knew he played tennis she would never have married him. She sits down after he leaves, only to break the Chihuahua’s neck, killing it. Marion enters the room and comments on how it is a good day to read, so Larita is forced to sit on the Chihuahua’s body, even as Veronica calls for the dog outside. Marion shows her a picture of her love Edgar, but is just a picture of a famous celebrity who kind of looks like Edgar (but not really). As soon as Marion leaves, Hilda arrives to ask Larita to play tennis. Larita tells her to use Phillip. Veronica comes inside. Veronica asks if she’s seen the Chihuahua, but Larita lies. She calls Furber and asks for a shovel. The servants help Larita get rid of the body.

John and Sarah talk in doors. They comment on how bored Larita is, and then the conversation shifts to the Colonel whom John describes as “born Bored.” John playfully flirts with Sarah and they smoke indoors. Veronica comes inside and they throw their cigarettes out the window. After burying the dog, Furber tells Larita that she should ride horses to keep Veronica off her back.

John and Larita go horseback riding and see a hare caught in a trap. John lets it go and they then notice Veronica and Lord Hurst, a neighbor, surveying the land. John is curious as to why they are surveying the land. Larita blurts out that she thinks Veronica is disappointed John didn’t marry Sarah. John tells Larita that Sarah has been a “part of the scenery.”  John wants to stay a little more, but Larita doesn’t want to.

He mentions a memorial service and Larita is confused.

Poppy, the “missing” Chihuahua is given a funeral. As Furber and Larita watch on, they see a stray dog come to eat the decomposing body of the real Poppy.

The group sees a play. Afterward at a reception, Larita jokes about performing the cancan. Phillip asks if she will be dancing naked like the original cancan. Hilda is sad Phillip is giving Larita so much attention and when Larita says she’ll do anything for Phillip, Hilda takes this as a cue that they will dance without panties. Hilda and Larita do the cancan at a show for the group. The group is horrified when they see Hilda dancing without her panties. Veronica leaves outraged. Larita doesn’t notice that Hilda is naked until she flashes the entire audience, which horrifies Larita. Phillip and most of the male audience enjoys the show.

After the show, Hilda is crying profusely over her embarrassment. John points out that it was Phillip, not Veronica who suggested naked dancing and that only Hilda “the idiot” would take it seriously. Hilda is pissed and now hates Larita. At dinner, no one is talking. Larita apologizes profusely to Hilda. The Colonel laughs. Veronica is quick to scold him for reveling in his daughter’s humiliation. Hilda, Marion and Larita trade barbs. Hilda points out that Larita has a scandalous past. Veronica asks if Larita has had as many lovers as they say. Larita gets up and leaves saying “no. I wouldn’t say any of them loved me.”

After dinner, Larita tells John that she hates his family and is upset that he didn’t come to her defense. The stray dog from earlier comes in with the pillow containing Poppy’s body. Marion cries profusely when she sees what is inside of the pillow case. Everyone is upset but the Colonel who jokes about how it could die. Larita asks to buy a new dog, but Veronica is pissed and tells her that you can’t buy loved ones back.

Veronica and Marion go and talk about Larita. Veronica makes it clear that she intends to make Larita divorce John. They remake a set of rooms for John and Larita. Veronica sets the stage to keep John here. Meanwhile, Larita cooks a bird for the family to celebrate Thanksgiving. The family enjoys the change from undercooked.

Larita tells Hilda that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Or his mother. She then starts sneezing when she realizes there are flowers in every room (Larita is allergic to pollen) thanks to Veronica. Larita buys a Picasso piece for the house (which is actually Larita naked). Veronica and Larita get into another standoff and Larita agrees to partake in the hunt.

At the hunt, Larita gives Hilda more advice to impress Phillip, but Phillip asks Larita to get come over when she’s done with John. Larita insults him and walks away. Hilda mistakes this encounter to indicate that Larita wants Phillip herself and gets upset.

The hunt commences. Veronica rides her horse to find the fox for the hunt. Larita rides the Colonel’s repaired motorcycle to great success at the hunt. As Larita and John dance, Hilda and Marion read until the Colonel cuts in and they dance. Their festivities are interrupted by Veronica. Hilda gets a phone call from her uncle George. She gets gossip from him, which will hurt Larita. John goes to his mother and tells her that its time that Larita and John leave because Larita is unhappy. Veronica calls John naïve and tells him that the family fortune is gone and to keep the bailiffs away she is selling Lord Hurst 400 acres of their land. John decides that he needs to stay to step up and help his family.

Larita tells John that selling land to a trusted neighbor is a good solution but John is upset nonetheless. Larita points out that The Colonel is not there emotionally anymore; Hilda and Marion won’t get married. That night, John is distant from Larita.

John and Sarah talk inside. John asks if he’s been reckless and Sarah tells him that if they had gotten married, they would have been married out of convenience. John expresses regret, but Sarah tells him to stop and leaves.

The Colonel is making nails in the outhouse. Larita tells him that John is no longer the man she met in France. The Colonel tells her that all the men his age signed up to go to war. The Colonel was the only one to come back. Larita asks why The Colonel came back. He tells her that he had no choice. Veronica found him in France in a whorehouse and brought him back. The Colonel didn’t really care about her at that point and came back empty.

Larita and Veronica talk while the rest of the family plays billiards with Phillip and Sarah. Larita offers to help Veronica sell the land to Lord Hurst at a premium price but Veronica tells her that it is none of her concern. Larita just wants to help, but Veronica scoffs at her idea of help. Veronica tells her that Larita is nothing and tells her that if she wants to be of assistance she must do “what she knows is required” and leave.

Larita tells John she wants to leave and go abroad. He tells her not yet, since it’s his life for the moment. He asks what the point of bickering is, and Larita tells her that their relationship will reach a natural end. They start off serious but break into joking around. He apologizes and Larita asks him to do something about it. Larita drives her car very fast with John in the passenger seat. John and Larita go to the English countryside and Larita tells John that he stopped loving her. John wants a fresh start but Larita tells him that there are so many things she needs to tell him that she kept from him. He tells her he doesn’t care and that he trusts her absolutely. They enjoy the day and have sex in a country outhouse. Veronica and her friends go hunting near the grounds and Veronica finds them having sex in the building and faints.

The Colonel is by the fireside laughing about the turn of events with John and Veronica. Veronica is pissed and Larita and John are laughing their butts off. The Colonel asks Veronica to let the lovebirds leave, but Veronica says no and then tells Veronica to get her nude painting out of the house since it is a reminder of Larita’s “easy virtue.”

Uncle George sends a letter to Hilda full of gossip. Hilda tells the entire family about Larita’s first marriage. The Colonel tries to laugh but Veronica flips on him. Veronica tells Larita that was accused of murdering her first husband. The Colonel rips up the paper saying it’s not their concern but Veronica won’t have it. The Colonel and Larita go out to smoke. Veronica follows them and continues to insult them. The Colonel insults Hilda and then John runs over to join them.

Larita tells John about the court case over her husband’s death. She tells John that her husband, Tom Morley, committed suicide and that the courts investigated Larita for his death because Larita helped him procure the poison. The Colonel loses it and yells at his daughters for their reckless behavior. John is heartbroken and feels betrayed. He finds Larita crying in front of the mirror. John asks if she is crying because she is angry or regretful. Larita tells her that coming to England was the most demoralizing experience of her life. John asks why she didn’t tell him and she said that she tried to but he trusted her absolutely. She tells him he should have loved her more and better. John tells her he doesn’t understand her and slams the door on the way out.

That night, the Whittakers host their annual ball. The entire crowd gossips over Larita. Phillip, The Colonel and the servants are the only ones who are on Larita’s side. When Hilda goes to walk with Phillip, she tells him Larita will not be coming since she has a headache. Phillip tells her that he knows she’s the cause of it and brusquely walks away. The Colonel talks to John and tells him to escort his wife out. John tells her she’ll come when she is ready.

Larita is smoking upstairs when the Colonel arrives. He asks why she’s sitting in the dark and tells him how people are universally similar when their guard is down. She thanks him for his gallantry. He asks why she married John. She tells her that since her first husband was older and his end was messy, she met John, a pure boy, unblemished by life.  She married him to live off his youth, since she squandered her. The Colonel asks what she will do, and Larita tells her “the best she can.”

John dances with Sarah during the ball. Larita makes her entrance and the crowd separates from disgust to look at her. Veronica, Hilda and Marion are all pleased. Larita asks the band to play the tango. She asks John to dance with her, but John walks away. She looks for a new partner but everyone recoils. Phillip comes up to her and takes her drink, winking at her. The Colonel dances with her in front of the entire crowd. Veronica is angered by this but doesn’t stop them and John watches from the shadows. Veronica leads the clapping. Veronica tells The Colonel that this is the end. Furber congratulates Larita and tells her that he has been drinking. She comments that he is full of surprises. He jokes that he was once arrested for bigamy before walking away.

Larita grabs her coat and walks out, but runs into Sarah. Sarah asks where Larita is going. Larita tells her she’s leaving and tells her to marry John since that’s the way it was meant to be. Sarah hugs Larita and begins to walk out when the family arrives to confront her. Larita tells her the war is over and walks out. She points out that Veronica is a manipulative cow, Marion is obsessed with a man who is never coming back to her and that Hilda is squandering her looks on malice. She tells Hilda and Marion to leave Veronica and experience the world for themselves. As she leaves, John arrives and tells her not to go. Larita tells her that she can’t live here. He tells her he loves her but she tells him that he doesn’t know what love is. She tells him that he doesn’t know what love is since he isn’t willing to do anything for her. She admits to injecting the poison into her husband on his request. She tells him that she doesn’t believe he would have done the same for her. Veronica tells John to let her go and she does. Veronica tells her to go, but John yells at her to shut up. Larita gives Furber and Jackson a special letter full of money. He wishes her luck and she thanks him. The Colonel gets in the car with Larita and they drive away from the estate.

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