This romantic drama is set in Spain during 1936 just before the Civil War. Mary Lavelle (Polly Walker) is an Irish convent girl from a rural area who leaves her fiance behind in order to test her wings as a governess. She takes over the education of the two daughters of Dr. Vicente Areavaga (Franco Nero), a Republican idealist who has seen better days. His conservative and fascist wife (Marisa Paredes) opposes his sympathies for the poor.

Mary falls in love with Francisco Areavaga (Vincent Perez), a government official who has just lost his job for fraternizing with socialists. Whereas his beautiful wife does not share his passion for politics, Mary is moved by his quest for justice. This outsider also makes quite an impression on four other Irish governesses. She becomes close friends with O'Toole (Ruth McCabe), a true romantic. Conlon (Frances McDormand), a misfit in the group, takes Mary to a bullfight and finds herself very drawn to her.

Nick Hamm directs this screen adaptation of Kate O'Brien's novel. Mary's radiant soul and her openness make her a very appealing character. Her romantic affair with Francisco and her other experiences in Spain become a rite of passage into independence as a woman with true spirit.