Bob Beckwith, a university professor, lives comfortably in California with his wife Sheila, an editor, and their two daughters. Their lives are upended when the past intrudes upon the present. In France ten years earlier, Bob had an affair with a doctor; unbeknownst to him she bore his son. Now news comes of her death and the plight of a nine-year-old Jean-Claude. Since Sheila does not want her husband to go to France, she suggests they bring the boy over for a visit. His presence in the Beckwith household shatters the family's equilibrium and forces Bob and Sheila into new roles.
Man, Woman and Child has been adapted from Erich Segal's novel. Jean-Claude (a gentle and solid performance by Sebastian Dungan) wins Bob's heart but alienates Sheila. She halfheartedly considers an affair with an Englishman whose book she is editing. When the girls learn who Jean-Claude is, they respond with hurt and anger.
Without the mature and restrained performances by Martin Sheen and Blythe Danner in the lead roles, this family drama could have turned into traditional soap opera fare. Instead the denouement compels us to consider the meaning of sacrifice and the limits of love.