The movie takes place during the Russo-Turkish War (1877-8). After the tragedy that struck him at the end of the first novel, The Winter Queen, Erast Fandorin decides to enroll as a Serbian volunteer and fight in the war. However he is captured by the Turks. While attempting to escape he finds out that a renowned Turkish spy, Anwar Effendi, is about to infiltrate the Russian army and to sabotage their operations while the Turkish army invades a strategically important town of Pleven, Bulgaria, thus surrounding the Russian army. Fandorin sets his way to the Russian camp at the outskirts of Pleven.
Meanwhile, a young woman, Varvara Suvorova, attempts to get to the same camp as well, hoping to reunite with her fiancé Pyotr Yablokov. Her travel is however compromised when her guide abandons her in a dingy inn and runs off with all of her belongings. Thankfully, Fandorin happens to be there and helps her out. After running away from a troop of bashi-bazouks, they are rescued by the Russian army. After Varvara reunites with Pyotr and Fandorin is recognized by the General Mizinov and delivers the information, he is trusted to figure out who, among soldiers and journalists present at the Russian camp, is Anvar. Shortly after his arrival, the Russians mysteriously start losing battle after battle...
The movie provides examples of:
- Accidental Aiming Skills: How Perepyolkin wins his duel versus Lukan.
- Bilingual Dialogue: All dialogues where D'Hevrais takes part. He only speaks French, but everyone understands him (justified by the fact that French was a common second (if not to say first) language among Russian nobility at the time), and D'Hevrais himself understands Russian.
- Bittersweet Ending: Despite all they've been through and the apparent affection between them, Fandorin does not end up with Varvara.
- Blue Blood: Lukan. Zurov as well, but he doesn't flaunt it.
- Born Lucky: Erast Fandorin. Zurov doesn't want to play cards with him for this same reason.
- Bury Your Gays: Luntz is among the first people killed.
- The Cavalry: A literal example: Sobolev's cossacks arrive to rescue Fandorin and Varvara from the Bashi-bazouks.
- Death Seeker: Fandorin seems to be a recovering one. Mizinov accuses him of being this.
- Duel to the Death: Lukan versus Perepyolkin after Lukan affronts Varvara and D'Hevrais, Zurov and Perepyolkin stand up for her.
- The Engineer: Mitenka, sometimes bordering on Bungling Inventor. Building and driving a steam 'monster' in 1877 means something.
- Expy: A lot of characters are based of real-life historical figures.
- Flashback Cut: Often present when Fandorin reflect upon Anvar's identity.
- Four-Star Badass: General Sobolev, General Konetskiy.
- Heroes Want Redheads: It would be easier to list the characters who weren't smitten with Varvara than those who were.
- Heroic Sacrifice: D'Hevrais after Anvar Effendi is unmasked.
- Hollywood History: A lot of historical goofs were committed by the filmmakers. They include equipment or clothes that didn't exist during the events of the movie, incorrect insignia on uniforms, a discussion mentioning the city of Murmansk which wasn't established until much later etc.
- Karma Houdini: Perepyolkin suffers no repercussions for killing Lukan.
- Kick the Dog: Upon recovering the body of assassinated Zurov Varvara starts to sob quetly about his fate only to get rudely and unnecessarily reproached by one of the present men that she is being a hindrance to their work and should better get away with her hysterics. For all the times when she is a hindrance this one time she is clearly not, what with all the fuss and loud mentalk around.
- Not His Sled: At least to those who had read the book: the character revealed as Anvar in the movie is different from the one from the book.
- Obfuscating Stupidity: How Anvar acted while under cover. Fandorin never suspects him until The Reveal.
- She Cleans Up Nicely: Varvara's first appearance at the Journalists' Club.
- Sinister Shades: Anvar Effendi's blue glasses.
- Surprisingly Good French: Besides D'Hevrais, whose actor is French, whenever any character speaks French, it is quite good if one doesn't mind a slight accent.