'The red and the black' is a picture of French Restoration society after Waterloo, riddled with corruption, greed and ennui. Handsome and ambitious, Julien Sorel is determined to rise above his humble peasant origins and make something of his life. To do this, he realizes he must adopt the code of hypocrisy by which society operates, achieving advancement through deceit and self-interest. His triumphant career takes him from the provinces to glamorous Paris society, along the way conquering the beautiful, gentle Madame de Renal, unhappy wife of his employer, and then the haughty, aristocratic Mathilde, engaged to another man. But he brings about his own downfall when he commits an unexpected, devastating crime.