Baden-Baden, 1875: an aristocratic spa town haven where Europe's elite might 'take the waters' and continue to perpetuate centuries of upper class tradition. Axel Leth, a young Danish nobleman, quietly performs his established role amidst ageing widows and retired generals. Enter Mizzie, a red-haired beauty, shy and demure in the custody of her governess, Miss Rabe. Axel quickly falls in love. But overhearing their tête-à-tête, he soon learns that their performance runs much deeper than the superficial customs of an upper-class watering-hole.
In this tale of servants, owners and the sham of the aristocratic world, Isak Dinesen unravels the deep-rooted desire of rulers to rule and the crushing burden of pretence, upbringing and social acceptance.