Swept From the Sea was inspired by a short story by Joseph Conrad. Set in late 19th-century Cornwall England in a small farming community, the story is told via flashback in a conversation between Dr. James Kennedy (Ian McKellen) and his patient Miss Swaffer (Kathy Bates). Dr. Kennedy despises indentured servant Amy Foster (Rachel Weisz). Miss Swaffer asks why, and so he recounts the love that blossomed between Amy and Yanko Goorall (Vincent Perez), a shipwrecked Russian who was trying to get to America. Born prior to her parent's wedding, Amy was relegated to a servant's life by rigid British society. Yanko was the sole survivor of a Russian shipwreck and he met Amy when he wandered onto her master's farm looking for food and shelter. Frightened and suspicious, no one but Amy is willing to help the bedraggled foreigner. Yanko eventually becomes a laborer for the Swaffer family. As he could speak no English at first, they know nothing of his origins. It is Dr. Kennedy who deduces his nationality after Yanko proves his mettle at chess. Impressed, the doctor offers English lessons in exchange for chess tutorials. In time, Kennedy comes to regard Yanko as a son. As soon as Yanko is able to converse, he asks about the maid who saved him, Amy. A love blossoms between them, one that deeply disturbs Kennedy. Still, he cannot prevent Swaffer from setting them up with land and a home so they can marry. A son is born, but Yanko is unable to withstand the harshness of Cornwall life, and tragedy ensues. Kennedy blames Amy for the tragic turn of events, but Miss Swaffer intervenes and tells the doctor the heartbreaking true circumstances surrounding Yanko.