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In 1854, 39 years after Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo, a group of aristocratic British army officers, including the arrogant Lord Cardigan, become restless for an opportunity to seek military glory. While Cardigan is eagerly planning to lead an army in the Crimean expedition to protect the Ottoman Empire from the invading Russians, he is also involved in a dispute with Captain Lewis Nolan, an outspoken young officer recently returned to Britain from India. As the two men's mutual acrimony reaches its peak, the British declare war, join forces with the French, and set sail for Turkey. Left behind in England is an officer's wife, Clarissa Morris, with whom Nolan has been having an affair. Once in the Crimea, the British army, although poorly-provisioned and cholera-ridden, wins an initial victory over the Russians and quickly becomes complacent about its power. Failing to follow through on his forces' advantage, the doddering Lord Raglan ponders his next course of action, while Cardigan dallies with Mrs. Duberly, the unfaithful paymaster's wife, who cheers on the soldiers by day and their commanding officer by night. Infuriated by the lack of immediate retaliation as the Battle of Balaklava begins, Nolan takes it upon himself to deliver one of Raglan's incoherent military orders to Cardigan and his brother-in-law, Lord Lucan. In the confusion, Cardigan's Light Brigade veers into the wrong valley and heads straight into the waiting Russian cannons. Though Nolan attempts to halt the charge, he is killed by an aerial burst, as the brigade stubbornly continues its suicidal march. Following the slaughter, Cardigan rides his horse over Nolan's corpse and joins the other officers in bickering over where the blame for the senseless debacle should be laid.