In 18th century France, passions run high amongst the wealthy elite. The Marquise de Merteuil is simmering from a previous affair with Gercourt, who left her for another woman. She enlists her former lover Valmont, to enact her revenge. The Marquise unveils her plan for Valmont to seduce Gercourt’s virginal fiancée Cécile de Volanges but Valmont takes this as an insult to his talents and refuses. He has already set his sights upon the happily married and virtuous Madame de Tourvel.
The Marquise offers Valmont a wager; seduce Madame de Tourvel and he will be rewarded with a night of pleasure with the Marquise herself. Her only condition is that he must present proof of his accomplishment in a written letter. Valmont accepts the challenge with relish.
While Valmont heads to his aunt’s country estate in pursuit of Madame de Tourvel, the Marquise devises another plan and introduces Cécile to the young and dashing Chevalier Danceny. Neither plan bears fruit: Danceny proves to be all poetry and no action, whilst Madame de Tourvel is resistant to Valmont’s charms.
The Marquise decides a shake-up is necessary and sneakily informs Cécile’s mother of the letters Danceny has been writing to her daughter. Shocked, Madame de Volanges sends Danceny away and, following the Marquise’s advice, takes Cécile to visit Valmont’s aunt in the country. Valmont agrees to deliver letters secretly between Danceny and Cécile, giving him an opportunity to return to the country where he continues his pursuit of Madame de Tourvel and chooses to ‘educate’ the naïve Cécile.
All eventually goes to plan. Using force, Valmont seduces Cécile who later learns to enjoy her sensual nature. Madame de Tourvel succumbs to Valmont’s charms and falls madly in love with him, becoming his lover despite her principles. Finally, the Marquise takes Danceny as the latest in her string of amusements and pleasures.
However, when the Marquise receives Valmont’s triumphant letter describing his lovemaking and feelings for Madame de Tourvel, she becomes inflamed with jealousy. Coming to collect his reward, the Marquise mocks Valmont for being in love, telling him his only chance of claiming her as his prize, is to give up Madame de Tourvel.
Giving into his pride, Valmont breaks off his relationship with Madame de Tourvel, knowing it will destroy her. In an emotional rage he returns to the Marquise to demand his reward and discovers Danceny is her new lover. Valmont convinces Danceny to return to his true love Cécile but still, an outraged Marquise refuses to give Valmont the reward she promised and instead declares war upon him.
The Marquise reveals Valmont and Cécile’s relationship to Danceny who, in a fit of rage, challenges Valmont to a duel. Emotionally tired and in realisation of the evils of his life, Valmont allows himself to be killed but, before dying, gives Danceny the Marquise’s correspondence.
Now understanding the truth of the matter, Danceny seeks advice from Valmont’s aunt and chooses to reveal a few of the letters. The Marquise becomes an outcast, and totally humiliated, retires from public life.
Header image by Emma Kauldhar.