Judith Hearne (Maggie Smith) has been raised and educated in the Catholic tradition and has spent the best years of her adult life taking care of the authoritarian aunt who was responsible for her upbringing. Now at last on her own, she moves into a Dublin boarding house. Loneliness eats away at her psyche and she drinks during moments of depression. The landlady's brother James (Bob Hoskins) is a widower who has returned to Dublin after 30 years in America. When he takes an interest in Judith, she is buoyed up. She learns, however, that he only wants her to invest money in a business venture. The dark clouds sweep into her life again. In one of the crucial scenes in the film, she expresses her despair to a priest. He misses the magnitude of her religious crisis and chastizes her for drinking. Eventually, Judith is compelled to re-examine her life and to see that no one else can give her days shape and substance. This finale is in sync with novelist Brian Moore's view of human nature. He has written: "I think that failure is a more interesting condition than success. Success changes people; it makes them something they were not and dehumanizes them in a way, whereas failure leaves you with a more intense distillation of that self you are."