Zanussi has described the film as his most autobiographical work. A young boy in post-World War II, Communist-dominated Poland, whose father's decision to remain in Britain after the war has made his family politically-suspect with the local Party authorities, is sent by his mother to stay with an "aunt" (in reality an old family friend) in the capital, Warsaw. Ida is a strong-willed, single, middle-aged woman who has found her own ways of surviving in the Communist-run society (which sometimes involves her charming powerful older men, as well as maintaining two different sets of identity papers). She gets Hubert admitted to one of the city's best schools by portraying him as the orphan of a war hero. But she also shares with him her own passion for horses, at a time when riding is seen by many officials as a relic of the old aristocratic class. Hubert himself, meanwhile, struggles to understand how it can be right for a good Catholic to lie in order to survive under Communism.