On the run in the dead of winter, a fugitive priest named Nicholas (Paul Bettany
) joins with a troupe of traveling actors led by the charismatic Martin (Willem Dafoe
). Lost in the woods, the group arrives at a village, where the actors encounter a woman named Martha being sentenced to death for the murder of a young boy. Under Martin's leadership, the actors defy tradition, discarding their usual Biblical plays, and instead, decide to stage a bold performance based on the real-life crime, turning entertainment into persuasion.
But the players don't have the facts straight. Through the creation and performance of the play, they discover to their dismay that Martha may be innocent and the ruthless killer still at large. Nicholas turns into an amateur sleuth, following a trail that leads to the castle that towers over the village. As the stage becomes a place where vital human truth is told, it changes the actors, the townsfolk and the very balance of power irrevocably. Now, Nicholas must make a fateful choice - to keep on running or take a real stand for justice and, in the ultimate sacrifice, reveal his own hidden crimes.
Based on award-winning novelist Barry Unsworth's Morality Play