It's summer 1936, and the world is on the cusp of change, but there's little sign of this in rural Sussex. So when Kitty Allen answers an advert looking for 'a good plain cook', she has no idea what she's in for. For starters, her employer is an American called Ellen Steinberg who believes in having the staff call her by her first name and sunbathing in the nude. Then there's Ellen's eleven-year-old daughter, Geenie, a bright, unhappy little thing, and Mrs Steinberg's gentleman friend, Mr Crane, who's said to be a poet - even though he doesn't have a beard and doesn't actually write much poetry. Rich bohemians imagining themselves as communists, Steinberg and Crane see themselves as champions of 'the people' - not that they know the first thing about how the people actually live.
Kitty is in no position to criticise - after all she claimed to be a good plain cook, despite hardly knowing how to boil an egg. Utterly out of her depth, she is relieved to have the gardener, Arthur, to talk to. Otherwise she'd never last a summer in this madhouse. Ellen Steinberg wants life to run as smoothly as the love story she imagines her lover George Crane to be writing. But as Kitty arrives, the dream is on the edge of falling apart.