In a Maine coastal village toward the end of the 19th century, a swaggering, carefree carnival barker, Billy Bigelow, captivates and marries a gentle millworker, Julie Jordan. Billy loses his job just as he learns that Julie is pregnant and, desperately intent upon providing a decent life for his family, he is coerced into being an accomplice to a robbery. Caught in the act and facing the certainty of prison, he takes his own life and is sent ‘up there.’ Billy is allowed to return to earth for one day 15 years later, and he encounters the daughter he never knew. She is a lonely, friendless teenager, her father's reputation as a thief and bully having haunted her throughout her young life. Billy instills a sense of hope and dignity in both the child and her mother in a dramatic testimony to the power of love.