Robert Chiltern (James Wilby) is a rising politician and newly elected as Leader of the Council. To celebrate, his wife Gertrude (Trevyn McDowell) and sister Mabel (Karen Hayley) throw a party. Surrounded by his friends, he is honoured as a pillar of the community. But his celebration is to be short lived when Lady Markby (Prunella Scales), introduces him to Laura Chevely (Sadie Frost). Laura is as scheming as she is beautiful and knows a dark secret from Robert's past. She has a letter proving that Robert's fortune was founded by selling political secrets for money. She blackmails Robert into supporting a controversial development project to which Robert is bitterly opposed but in which she stands to make her own fortune. She threatens to make the scandal known to the newspaper unless he agrees to her terms.