Adapted from a fairy tale by Hans Andersen, a dancer is given a role in a ballet by a new composer and becomes a great ballerina; but when she marries the composer, they have to leave the company.
Students rush in early to see and hear a ballet. At the party afterward Lady Neston (Irene Browne) asks Boris Lermontov (Anton Walbrook) to watch her niece dance, but he declines to do so there. Lermontov meets Victoria Page (Moira Shearer) and asks her why she wants to dance. She implies she must.
Julian Craster (Marius Goring) asks Lermontov to return his letter unopened, but he already read it and asks Julian to play his music. Lermontov gives him a job coaching the orchestra. At rehearsal Julian and Victoria are ignored. Julian is reprimanded for calling in the orchestra early.
Lermontov lets Victoria dance in a ballet, and she makes the traveling company. Lermontov tells Julian the story of the red shoes ballet. Victoria hears Lermontov criticize a ballerina for getting married. At Monte Carlo, Lermontov gives Victoria the leading role in the new ballet. Julian has worked on the score, and Lermontov asks for orchestration. Victoria rehearses. Lermontov has Julian play piano at all her meals. Victoria and Julian quarrel about the tempo.
The Red Shoes opens. Lermontov encourages Victoria, and Julian conducts the orchestra. Victoria sees red shoes and dances in them with the shoemaker. Victoria embraces a man, and he removes the red shoes. The audience applauds.
Choreographer Grischa Ljubov (Leonide Massine) asks Victoria if her head is swollen. Lermontov asks Julian to compose another ballet, and he wants Victoria to be a great dancer. She dances the best ballets and is a great success. Lermontov goes to a party and learns of the romance between Victoria and Julian. In a carriage Julian and Victoria kiss. Lermontov becomes jealous and tells Julian that Victoria is dreaming. Julian says they are in love. Lermontov fires Julian. Lermontov tells Grischa that the new ballet is canceled, and Grischa resigns. Victoria meets Lermontov as he is leaving on a train and says that if Julian goes, she will leave too. She tells Julian that she is going with him.
Lermontov tells his lawyer that he won't stop Victoria from dancing, but he won't release Julian. Others get letters, and Lermontov asks to read them. Julian hears a voice and gets out of bed to compose. Victoria gets up and listens.
Lermontov learns that Lady Neston and Victoria are coming. He finds Victoria in a railway car and asks her to come back and dance The Red Shoes. Julian's opera opens in London, but he goes to Victoria and asks her to leave with him. Lermontov says she cannot live two lives. Victoria says she loves Julian; but she cries, and Julian leaves. Lermontov says she will dance. Victoria in the red shoes runs out and jumps in front of a train. On stage Lermontov announces they will present The Red Shoes without her. Dying Victoria asks Julian to take the red shoes off her feet.
This drama explores the world of professional ballet
and the challenges a great artist must face in balancing a career
with a personal life. The fairy tale has an even more gruesome
ending than this self-destruction.