It's 1946, and Sam Richardson is overjoyed to be reunited with Ellen, the beautiful woman he married, and then was separated from by the Burma campaign in World War II. She is equally glad to see him, and his six-year-old son, Joe, is ecstatic.
But both Sam and Ellen have changed. The poor boy, who believed he had no future but unskilled work, has been a leader of men and has gained the respect of better-educated soldiers under his command. He wants more out of life than just work, and he believes the small town, Wigton, can't provide it. Ellen has gained the experience of work, supporting her son and herself through the war years.
The family is living with Ellen's aunt, but Sam is eager to have their own place, even if it means living in a slum on one of the worst streets in Wigton.
Sam's nightmares, his new hardness, his jealousy of the life Ellen has lived away from him and his inability to talk about the horrors of Burma begin driving a wedge between Sam and Ellen. His memory of his own hard upbringing in poverty convinces him that Ellen's interest in seeing Joe well educated and protected from the harsh realities of their new neighborhood is coddling. It will make Joe soft and unable to cope with life, he believes.
Baffled by the feelings they cannot control, Sam and Ellen grow apart. Their moments of happiness – a community dance, a day at the beach – become rarer.
Finally, Ellen's desire to pay for a Council house in the center of town – one that needs fixing up – opens what may be the final wound. The new Council houses can simply be rented, but this one will require a down-payment, an investment. Taking it will mean a commitment to staying in Wigton. Ellen wants to remain in the only home she has ever known; Sam wants to escape from this poor industrial town where he is known and typecast as a factory hand.
At a reunion of the Burma fighters, Sam discovers that one of his best friends in the regiment is planning to go to Australia. He agrees to go with him, and when Ellen balks, he says he is going anyway. He'll send for Ellen and Joe when he's on his feet. The couple, so joyously united just months ago, stands disconsolately on the station, waiting for the train that will take Sam on the first leg of a journey halfway around the world.
This report prepared by David Gordon