A local fair in a small town in Northern Ireland. Steering their way through the crowd is a petite blonde white woman and a hulking black man. She’s Irish. He’s English. She knows he’s a British soldier. He doesn’t know she’s also a soldier. A soldier with the Provisional IRA engaged in a never-ending war to make the entire island of Ireland belong to the Irish once again. Jude is the bait intended to lure Jody into a state of distraction before leading him to a more secluded spot away from the crowd at the fair. Once there, her fellow IRA members led by Maguire and Fergus kidnap Jody and transport him to an unidentified home surrounded by woods.
Jody is being ransomed for the release of three IRA members currently jailed by the British authorities. If the British don’t agree to the hostage exchange within three days, Jody will be executed.
Over the course of those days, Fergus develops a bond with Jody. The relationship begins with arguments over the validity of his ideological beliefs, but gradually it becomes apparent that Fergus is clearly not in the camp of the true believers, it’s less clear what he is doing with these people. The only clue to that mystery is a fable he tells Jody about a scorpion promising a frog he won’t sting him if he will agree to carry him across a river. When he stings the frog halfway across, the frog is dumbfounded, asking the scorpion why he stung him since it means both of them are doomed to die in the water. To which the scorpion replies simply: it’s his nature.
As the deadline for execution draws close and seems inevitable, Jody makes Fergus promise to seek out his girlfriend Dil in London and tell her what happened. Fergus is to be the execution and as he is leading Jody through the woods to the place of execution, Jody suddenly takes off running. Fergus chases him and watches as Jody runs into the first street they come to. Immediately, he is run over by a British military vehicle on their way to the IRA’s hideout to rescue him. Fergus manages to escape as the sound of the attack on the safe house explodes behind him.
Some time later, Fergus is doing construction work in London, having assumed Jude, Maguire and the rest perished in the attack. He keeps his word to Jody and finds Dil working as a hairdresser in a salon. He follows her to a nightclub here he seeks to speak with her and watches her on stage singing to the song “The Crying Game.” When she is confronted on her way home by an apparent boyfriend who acts very threateningly, Fergus walks away without interfering, but the next night when this guy starts acting like a jerk, he steps in to protect. That act of chivalry launches a whirlwind romance that quickly escalates into sex acts that stop short of actual intercourse.
Although she has performed a sex act on Fergus, Dil puts off actually going to bed with for a short period. When she finally feels ready after a brief interlude, Fergus is stunned when Dil finally takes her clothes off: she’s got a penis. This unexpected discovery of his transgender status has the immediate effect of filling Fergus with revulsion which is demonstrated by a sudden need to vomit and rough contact with Dil as he runs to the toilet.
After a couple of days of mulling this revelation over, he approaches with regret and apology and the two make up. Fergus discovers that he is actually romantically attracted to Dil even though she does have a penis, but prefers that she maintain the illusion of being female. What Dil doesn’t know yet is that the protective element he brings to their relationship has much to do with the guilt he feels at betraying Jody mixed with the anger he now feels toward Jody for betraying him by not revealing the true nature of his “girlfriend.”
Everything seems to be settling into a routine between the two when Fergus is subjected to yet another shock: Jude is alive, sporting a black bob haircut and sitting in his apartment. She and Maguire did not die in the military attack on the IRA house after all and they have come to England with a mission for their fellow soldier in the struggle: he is to take part in the assassination of a British judge. This action is the only thing that will save him from the death penalty he was handed when tried and convicted in absentia by the IRA. As further incentive, Jude also lets Fergus know that the IRA knows about his relationship with the “wee black chick.” So not only does his own life hang in the balance if he refuses his mission, so does the life of Dil.
Hoping to hide her from the IRA, Fergus cuts Dil’s hair and dresses her in standard male clothing. The evening before the planned assassination, a very drunk Dil begs Fergus to stay with her after he escorts her home. He finally confesses to Dil that he played a role in the death of Jody, but Dil appears to be so overcome with drink that the news barely registers. In the morning, however, Fergus finds that Dil heard and understood exactly what he said as she ties him to the bed and thus accidentally delays his taking part in the assassination. Dil points a gun at Fergus and coerces him into saying how much he loves her and promising he will never abandon her. Only then does she release him from his bondage on the bed, asserting that it doesn’t even matter if he was lying with a gun at point him, it was still worth hearing the words.
The assassination plot goes on as planned even without Fergus. Jude and Maguire are successful in shooting the judge, but at the cost of Maguire’s life. Afterwards, Jude shows up at Dil’s apartment, ready to shoot Fergus dead. Dil uses the gun she had just trained on Fergus to shoot at Jude, letting her know that she knows she used sex to entice Jody to his death. Then she delivers the fatal shot into Jude’s neck.
Dil whirls around and points the gun back at Fergus, but admits she cannot kill him because Jody would never allow it. She makes to kill herself instead, but Fergus steps in to prevent this from happening. He advises her to hide out in the club where she performs. After she leaves, he wipes the gun clean of her incriminating fingerprints and takes the pistol into his own hand to convince the police he pulled the trigger.
A few months later Dil arrives for visiting day at the prison where Fergus has been sentenced to six years. They discuss what might happen when he is released and then she inquires why he took the blame for what she did. His response is to launch into the very same fable about the scorpion and the frog that he told Jody back in the safe house.