Twenty-something Laura Reynolds (Dame Elizabeth Taylor) is a free spirit who questions social conventions, laws, and regulations. A struggling artist, she lives in a secluded beachside cabin in Big Sur with her 9-year-old illegitimate son Danny (Morgan Mason), in whom she instills her values. Because of this questioning of convention, she has decided to home-school him; because of this questioning of the law, Danny runs into legal problems and is court-ordered to be sent to San Simeon, a Christian school in Monterey, California. This order is against Laura's wishes. The school's headmaster is Dr. Reverend Edward Hewitt (Richard Burton), who tries to convince Laura that San Simeon is not the prison she imagines. Married for 21 years to faithful Claire (Eva Marie Saint), Edward has become more a fund-raiser at all cost (for a new chapel) rather than an educator or Priest. Despite their differences, Laura and Edward begin to fall for each other and both, especially Edward, must reconcile their feelings for each other to their beliefs, which they learn are closer to each other than they thought. Their feelings also bring to the forefront what each really wants in life beyond their current lot.