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At Loam Hall in 1905 England, Lord Henry Loam, the socially conscious master of the estate, preaches equality for all, even though he enjoys a life of privilege. To prove his point, Loam instructs his three haughty daughters, Lady Mary, Catherine and Agatha, to entertain the staff at tea that afternoon. When Loam's impeccable butler, William Crichton, informs his underlings that their attendance is required at tea, they are only slightly more mortified that Loam's daughters. Also attending the soirée that afternoon is George Brocklehurst, Mary's snobbish fiancé and his mother, the pompous Lady Emily Brocklehurst. The party abruptly ends, however, when word comes that Catherine has been arrested for attending a suffragette meeting, causing Loam promptly to renounce all attempts at equality. To escape the scandal of Catherine's arrest, Crichton suggests that the family take a cruise, with the staff in attendance. Also joining the group is Alex Wooley, the second son of a Lord, a young vicar and Eliza, the servant known as "Tweeny" because she has not yet achieved the position of lady's maid. Once at sea, Lady Mary questions Crichton about his ambition, and he replies that he is content to be a butler, the highest rank in the hierarchy of servitude. One blustery night, a storm hits, and after the engines explode, the captain gives the order to abandon ship. When the lifeboats are launched, Crichton goes below deck to rescue the sleeping Eliza. After jumping overboard, the two are picked up by the boat carrying Loam, his daughters, the vicar and Wooley, who have become separated from the others. Spotting an island in the distance, the group eagerly makes their way to land. Upon reaching shore, the inept vicar and Wooley tie the craft to a turtle who then tows it out to sea. After surveying the island, Crichton reports that it is deserted and begins to take charge of the situation, assigning sleeping quarters and kindling a fire. Eliza, who is smitten by Crichton, describes herself as a bumbling oaf compared to the polished butler. Soon after, they see the Bluebell , their abandoned yacht, approaching the shore and watch as it founders on some rocks. Swimming to the wreck, Crichton retrieves the basic necessities, prompting the others to order him to return to the boat and bring back frilly dresses and a formal dining service. When Crichton questions their frivolity, Loam fires the butler for insubordination, and Crichton leaves the camp followed by Eliza. Hungry and helpless, that night Loam and his fellow aristocrats smell the scent of roasting pork and follow it to Crichton's camp, where the butler beneficently offers them a pork chop. Only Lady Mary resists Crichton's authority. One day while swimming to the wreck, she begins to flounder in the water. Crichton, nearby, presses her to continue on, and upon reaching the boat, she sobs on his shoulder. Two years later, life on the island is thriving under the benevolent rule of Crichton, whom everyone now addresses as "Guv." Even Loam treats his former butler with deference, happily pressing his pants and running his errands. As Crichton rallies the others to build a boat to sail back to England, it becomes obvious that no one wants to leave the idyllic life on the island. Later, Crichton confides to Mary, with whom he has fallen in love, that he is afraid of losing her once they return to civilization. When Crichton informs Eliza that he and Mary have become engaged, the heartbroken Eliza puts on a brave front. On their wedding day, Mary and Crichton are in the midst of exchanging their vows when a ship is spotted offshore. Although Mary opposes lighting the beacon they have built to signal passing ships, Crichton, putting the welfare of the others above his own happiness, orders the beacon lit. By the time the ship's crew arrives on the island, Crichton has reverted to his role as butler. Some time later, a ball is held at Loam Hall to celebrate the return of the survivors. Lord Loam now takes total credit for their success and Wooley has published a book about the adventure, painting himself as the hero. While they all fear that Crichton will expose their incompetence, Lady Brocklehurst, suspecting that something is amiss, decides to uncover what really happened and so assembles the survivors in the drawing room. When she asks Crichton if they were all equals on the island, he assures her that the social order was preserved. After the celebration ends, Crichton announces that he plans to leave service because there are "too many Lady Brocklehursts in England." Crichton explains that he plans to finance a business with the pearls that he pried from the oysters on the island. When Mary begs him to return to the island with her, he replies that they cannot fight civilization. Afterward, on the servants' staircase, Eliza asks Crichton to take her with him. Later, Crichton bids the family farewell and is then joined by his fiancée, Eliza.