It is the early years of the 19th century, and the English blockade is bringing famine to the Norwegian population. Terje Vigen, a fisherman, attempts to break through the English lines to obtain food for his family. He is imprisoned by the English until Napoleon is finally defeated, but when he returns home he finds that his family has died of starvation.
Initially, Sjöström was reluctant to adapt Ibsen’s poem, but he accepted the idea after a visit to Grimstad, a town on the Norwegian coast where the story had been written. The film highlights the coastal landscapes, celebrating those who make their living from the sea, and condemns the iniquities of war. This was the first great success in Swedish cinema, and established Sjöström as one of the leading directors of his time.