Florence, Italy, 1922
Lucy Honeychurch has returned to Italy to remember her first visit there years before and recapture her happiest moments. She finds the pensione where she once stayed, reveling in the events that shaped her young life.
Lucy, heavily chaperoned by her anxious cousin Charlotte Bartlett, arrives at the Pensione Bertolini looking for adventure. Instead, she finds herself in an eccentric enclave of English tourists including elderly spinsters, clergymen, and more dangerously, the socialist Mr. Emerson and his son George. When Lucy explores the streets alone, she witnesses a fight in which a man dies. When she faints, it's George Emerson who rescues her, and the two experience a spark of connection.
On a picnic excursion to the countryside, the young coachman Paolo attracts attention — he's brought his girlfriend along, pretending she's his sister. The supercilious Reverend Eager summarily dismisses her. When Lucy finds herself separated from the rest of the party, she asks Paolo where the clergymen are, but in her poor Italian, she actually asks him how to find the "good men". Paolo directs her towards George Emerson, who kisses her passionately in the middle of a poppy field. Lucy is profoundly shocked, but also very excited.
Her chaperone Charlotte whisks her away to Rome, where they stay with the elegant Cecil Vyse at his holiday villa. Cecil proposes to Lucy and she accepts, but Lucy doesn't entirely seem the right match for cerebral Cecil. Back at Lucy's family home in Surrey, George turns up, and it isn't long before he kisses her again and declares his love, urging her not to marry Cecil.
Lucy's quandary escalates until she breaks off with both men. Before she can embrace her cousin Charlotte's fate as a spinster, Mr. Emerson kindly explains her muddled feelings to her — obviously, she loves his son! George and Lucy come together at last — and enjoy an ecstatic honeymoon in Florence — in their old room with a view.