First part of the saga of a wealthy German family in the middle of the 19th century, based on the novel by Thomas Mann. Jean Buddenbrook is the strict and ambitious leader of the family and the head of the family business. He forces daughter Antonie into a marriage with a man she does not love, and when son Christian, an irresponsible playboy and womanizer, falls for the wrong kind of woman, he sends him abroad to England. Son Thomas is the only one of the children who has any interest in the family business, and when Jean dies unexpectedly, he takes over and extends the business, making his brother Christian, now back from England, a partner. Before long the brothers have a falling out. Antonie's marriage is on the rocks, her husband is in financial trouble, and Thomas refuses to help him.