The year is 1880. On the outskirts of the fictional small Scottish town of Levenford there stands a strange building, half cottage, half castle, embraced with thick stone walls. The townsfolk nickname the fortress "Hatter's Castle", for James Brodie, the man who built it. Brodie is a hatter who keeps the members of the family in fear and submission; he is brutal, arrogant, selfish and cruel. His wife, who has long been ailing, and his daughter Mary, are in awe of him. His son Angus, aged 15, alone dear to his heart, suffers under his love as the others suffer under his sternness.