In a small Russian town on the banks of the River Volga, Katya Kabanova lives an unhappy life. Her husband, Tichon, is weak-willed. Constantly scorned by his domineering mother, Kabanicha, he seeks solace in drink rather than standing up for himself and Katya.
When Tichon leaves town on business, Katya fears that she will not be able to resist temptation. She asks Tichon to make her swear an oath that she will speak to no strangers during his absence…
With Tichon gone, Katya begins to feel tempted knowing that local romantic, Boris, has feelings for her. Varvara, the family’s foster daughter, reveals that she is meeting Vana, her lover, that night in the garden behind a locked door to which she has the key. She suggests that Katya should go there too to meet Boris.
Later that night, she meets Boris at the bottom of the garden. Though she is worried about the consequences of an affair, she cannot resist and as he declares his love for her, she admits her feelings for him.
Tichon’s return is marked by a violent storm and Katya becomes increasingly agitated. She confesses her affair to Tichon in front of everybody, before running out into the tempest… Later, when the storm has finally subsided, Tichon sets out to find her.
Katya reunites with Boris, who tells her that he is leaving. At first, she begs to go with him but then decides that she cannot leave. Boris departs and Katya, overcome with sorrow, throws herself into the Volga. Tichon arrives just in time to witness Katya leap into the torrent. He rushes to help but his mother holds him back. As Katya’s body is pulled from the water, Tichon weeps and Kabanicha thanks the bystanders for their help.