powered by AFI
In 1784, wealthy American Peter Standish arrives in England to court a distant cousin, Kate Pettigrew, whose impoverished family is of the best bloodline. At the Pettigrew home, Kate's brother Tom and mother, Lady Ann, urge her to charm Peter into proposing to her so that they will be able to pay off their debts. Meanwhile, her sister Helen is visited by her unwanted but wealthy suitor, Mr. Throstle. Just as Peter is about to enter the house, the scene dissolves to 1933 London, to the modern day Pettigrew home, where the current Peter Standish, an American architect who is a descendant of the former Peter, is surveying his inheritance. His fiancée, Marjorie Trant, arrives and grows worried at Peter's distracted appearance. He has spent the past three days studying the former Peter's detailed diaries and brooding about the lives of his ancestors. Marjorie persuades Peter to join her for tea with the American ambassador, to whom Peter explains that on this day, 149 years ago, the original Peter arrived at the Pettigrew home. Peter also relates his belief that if he returns to the house at precisely the same time that his ancestor arrived, he will be transported to 1784. The ambassador tells Peter that if he did go back, he would have to be careful not to alter history, after which Peter rushes home. His "theory" comes true, and it is he, rather than the original Peter, who is greeted by Kate. The Pettigrews are dismayed by their strange cousin, who seems to know about things that have not yet happened and who speaks most peculiarly. Only Helen is more intrigued than frightened by Peter's oddities, and as the days pass, the couple fall in love, even though Peter has already proposed to Kate as he was supposed to do according to the original Peter's diaries. Peter is at first charmed by the simplicity of life in the 1700's, but gradually becomes disgusted by his acquaintances' small-mindedness and lack of hygiene. After several incidents in which Peter's strange ways embarrass them, the Pettigrews, except for Helen, become convinced that a demon is inhabiting Peter's body. Helen, desperate to learn her beloved's secret, looks deep into his eyes and is horrified to see aspects of the future: World War I, gangsters, trains and modern cities. Peter and Helen confess their love for each other, and Peter determines to stay, even though he has changed history. However, the animosity between the other Pettigrews and Peter finally reaches a boiling point, and Peter is convinced by Helen that he must return to his own time. She tells him that she will always be with him and gives him an Egyptian statue of the symbol of eternal life. Peter reluctantly returns to 1933, much to the relief of his maid, Mrs. Barwick, Marjorie and the ambassador, who claim that Peter had been drinking heavily and rambling about being from the eighteenth century. Peter then visits Helen's grave and is shocked to learn that he did change history, for instead of living out her life with Throstle, Helen died in 1787. Peter tells Marjorie that he cannot marry her, and as he grieves for Helen, he is comforted by her voice assuring him that they will be together "in God's time."