Some time in the first decade of the 20th century, a troupe of traveling actors is making its way from one small town to another in the North and Midlands of England, setting up their tent and rough stage on any piece of spare ground they can call home for a week or two, with the intent of separating the local miners and mill workers from at least a small portion of their hard-earned wages. They perform the popular melodramas of the day, with the occasional abbreviated Shakespeare, translated into the local dialect. It's a hard way to scratch out a meager living, and viewed with some disdain by the more respectable sort. But life is about to change for one member of the Dyer family. First, Tommy meets Angelina, daughter of Italian immigrants and the love of his life and wife-to-be. Angelina's parents, with their old-country values, disapprove of an itinerant actor with no prospects as a husband for their only daughter, so Tommy is forced to give up his life as an actor and join Angelina's brothers, cutting coal underground. But an explosion down the mine that kills one of Angelina's brothers persuades Angelina's parents that coal mining is not such an ideal life for a son-in-law. So Tommy returns to the stage and Angelina's parents give their consent. Then an agent of the French film company Pathe Freres changes their life forever. They are offered an opportunity to travel to America and be part of the fledgling movie business. At the Pathe studio in New Jersey they meet world-famous actress Pearl White, star of the hugely successful "Perils of Pauline" serials. Pearl and Angelina become the best of friends and Tommy goes along for the ride, as the plain-speaking, down-to-earth farm girl Pearl plunges into one misadventure after another, and with Pearl's tendency to to stretch the truth, it's hard to know where fact ends and fiction begins.
Pearl's increasing reliance on Angelina, as alcohol and painkillers take their toll, leads the couple eventually to Paris, where Pearl marries her Italian count and they meet the legendary entertainer Mistinguett; a very young, not-yet-famous Maurice Chevalier and an even younger English clown and comic Max Wall. who would become a star on the stage of the London music halls. In time fond memories of England beckon and they return to the small town where it all began. They acquire a rundown theater, convert it into a movie theater and begin every showing with an episode of "The Perils of Pauline.