One of the best legacies a parent can pass on to a child is the story of his or her life. If told with sincerity and honesty, it can be good medicine for the child. Moll Flanders, a picaresque tale set in London during the 18th century, is organized around this premise.

A feisty little girl is rescued from a terrible orphanage by Hibble (Morgan Freeman), a man in the service of a wealthy and mysterious woman in America. On the long sea voyage, he reads from the journals of Moll Flanders (Robin Wright), the girl's mother who was separated from her.

It is the story of a spirited soul who struggles over the years to escape the degrading and dehumanizing traps of poverty, class, and bad luck. Although Moll almost throws her life away while working in a whorehouse run by the cunning Mrs. Allworthy (Stockard Channing), she finds a loving soulmate in a sensitive artist (John Lynch) who marries her. But tragedy takes away Moll's brief happiness and she again must learn from pain and loss.