The Elliots of Kellynch Hall, a family of minor nobility, are in financial trouble. Their sense of how important they are has long been larger than their finances allow. The duct-tape patching job they've been doing on their finances is finally falling apart, so they come up with a last-ditch plan: move out of the ancestral mansion and rent out the place to someone else to increase their income. And so the Elliots move out, and the newly rich Admiral Croft and his wife move in.
While the Crofts are total strangers to the Elliots, it turns out Mrs. Croft's brother, Captain Wentworth, is not. In fact, eight years ago Wentworth and the middle Elliot daughter, Anne, had hit it off so well that, after dating for a few months, they were already talking marriage. Wentworth's service in the navy, however, didn't give him enough steady income or social status to please Anne's family and her mentor, Lady Russell. Eventually Lady Russell persuaded Anne to break it off with Wentworth, and Anne has been kicking herself ever since.
Meanwhile, Wentworth has struck it rich, but has never gotten back in touch.