In a fine adaptation of Charles Dickens' novel an alcoholic English lawyer sacrifices himself to save an aristocratic husband from the guillotine.
In England banker Jarvis Lorry (Claude Gillingwater) tells Lucie Manette (Elizabeth Allan) her father is alive after spending 18 years in the Bastille. They find Dr. Manette (Henry B. Walthall) with Monsieur and Madame Lafarge (Blanche Yurka) in Paris making shoes and take him to England. Madame Lafarge says that Marquis St. Evremonde (Basil Rathbone) arrested Dr. Manette, and Evremonde's coach kills a child. Evremonde tells his nephew Charles Darnay (Donald Woods) that pity is a disease, and he plans to have him arrested in England. Darnay travels with Lucie, and he is put on trial for treason. Stryver (Reginald Owen) asks Sydney Carton (Ronald Coleman) to help defend Darnay. Carton drinks and from Jerry Cruncher (Billy Bevan) finds Barsad (Walter Catlett), who tells him about Darnay. In the trial Barsad says he could mistake Carton for Darnay, and Darnay is acquitted by the jury.
Carton drinks with Darnay. During Christmas Darnay tells Dr. Manette that he is Evremonde's nephew. Carton joins Lucie and Miss Pross (Edna May Oliver) at church. Lucie invites Carton to her home; she paints plates, and he drinks tea. Lucie tells him she is marrying Darnay. In France Gaspard (Fritz Leiber) kills Evremonde with a knife. Gabelle (H. B. Warner) warns aristocrats of revolution if they don't give people bread. Barsad tells the Lafarges that Darnay married Lucie. The Lafarges hate the Evremondes. Carton says goodnight to Lucie's child. Starving people see meat thrown to dogs and break into the Bastille. Soldiers join the people in revolution. Mobs begin killing nobles. Madame Lafarge asks Gabelle to write to Darnay to testify for him. Gabelle pleads for Darnay and is stabbed by Gaspard.
Carton tells Stryver that the Tellson bank should not make loans to French aristocrats. Darnay goes to France and is put in prison. Lucie and her father go to France. Darnay testifies he gave up his title and came to save Gabelle. Dr. Manette testifies for Darnay; but Madame Lafarge reads his denunciation of Evremonde he wrote in prison, and she demands death. Darnay is sentenced to die in 48 hours. Lucie cries and prays. Carton goes to France. Lucie pleads with Madame Lafarge, who sees her child. Dr. Manette comes back oblivious after seeing Danton. Carton gives Lorry his permit and tells him to prepare to return to England. Carton has Barsad take him to Darnay. Carton uses ether to make Darnay pass out. He writes a letter, and Barsad carries Darnay out. Madame Lafarge goes after Lucie and the child; but Pross stops her; they fight, and Madame Lafarge is shot. Lorry leaves with Dr. Manette, Lucie, and Darnay as Carton. In prison a seamstress (Isabel Jewell) realizes Carton is not Darnay; he encourages her as they go to the guillotine. Carton says, "It is a far far better thing I do than I have ever done."
This story contrasts the French terror to the English moderation that only lost the American colonies in this revolutionary era. Carton, not finding much success or value in living, makes his death meaningful by helping others.