Catherine is humiliated by the drunken debauchery of her husband, Tsar Peter III. Her Court Favorite aids her in staging a coup against the Emperor. Little Prince Paul becomes an involuntary witness to the murder of his father.
We are in the Russian Royal Court Chambers in the middle of 18th century. Young Prince Paul feels alone among the hypocritical courtiers, in the atmosphere filled with empty chatter of the maids, gossip and intrigue, His mother—the Empress—is inaccessible, always shielded by her Favorite.
Catherine keeps her son away from the throne—for her, power is indivisible.
The Favorite's attempts to accustom the Prince to the depravity of Court life do not bring the expected results, and so the Empress decide that an early marriage must distract him from any thought of inheriting the throne.
Paul is happy with his wife, but she is filled with ambitious plans - she dreams of power and pressures him to fight for the throne of Russia. The Empress discovers the young bride's intentions. Lies and treachery are commonplace in the struggle for power, and Catherine's next scheme destroys Prince's happy life in marriage —his wife becomes Favorite's prey. But even that is not enough: the death of his beloved is the full price paid for her pursuit of the throne.
Paul is scared in the midst of the endless chain of betrayals and crimes.
The events of the past haunt Paul; his fantasies intertwine with reality. The hostile labyrinths of the Royal Palace frighten him and take away the hope of breaking free from the power of the Empress, who still keeps the Heir away from the slate affairs. Paul finds gratification of his ambitions only in the world of toy soldiers, which he loved since childhood, in the neat military ranks governed by order. But, realizing that this is only an illusion of power, he, for the first time, decides to stand up to his mother—and is crushed again.
The Ghost of his father, surrounded by black knights, is calling Paul to revenge. Agonizing memories of the murder ignite the son's rage, which seeks a way out.
The Royal Palace continues inventing new forms of entertainment. Catherine the Great presides over a masked all, which soon turns into an orgy. The favorite spectacle of the Royal Court is a theatre play, but this time the actors perform a scene, in which a wife and her lover kill her husband. The Empress is furious - everything points to her role in the murder of Peter III. She tears the mask off the actor who played the murderous wife, revealing Prince Paul.
The Empress broods. Many sacrifices have been made in the struggle for power, and there is no peace in her soul. The Favorite is also in turmoil. With his caresses, he tries to reclaim his power, but in vain—his rule has ended, and he must leave the political scene.
The Heir is restless dreaming of power. In his fantasies Paul takes the coveted revenge—the Favorite dies in the arms of the ghost of Peter III, whom he had murdered.
In the wirlwind of fantastic images, Paul sees the Empress—now it is in her turn, he only has to wave his sword… but he cannot raise his arm to deal о deathly blow to his mother.
One vision is replaced by another—and the Empress is alone again. Her price for the throne is a complete spiritual isolation. She is separated from her son by the wall of hatred, which she herself has erected. The image of the Tsar, whom she had murdered, does not leave her alone, tortures, suffocates her.
Even in his daydreams, ascension to the throne does not bring joy to Paul—he is not destined to attain the glory of his mother. And as soon as his illusions dissipate, Paul understands: he is only a shadow of his dreams, a reflection of his own phantasmagories.