The title characters are children in the exuberant and colorful Ekdahl household in a Swedish town early in the twentieth century. Their parents, Oscar and Emilie, are the director and the leading lady of the local theatre company. Oscar's mother and brother are its chief patrons. After Oscar's early death, his widow marries the bishop and moves with her children to his austere and forbidding chancery. The children are immediately miserable. The film dramatizes and resolves those conflicts. A sub-plot features Isak, a local Jewish merchant who is the grandmother's lover and whose odd household becomes the children's refuge.