Hiram Otis comes to England with his wife, daughter and two sons on a research grant; he and his family will live in a castle called Canterville Hall. But the Castle is haunted by the ghost of a deceased ancestor, Sir Simon de Canterville, doomed to remain on the estate after the death of his wife; his goal is to send the family packing so he begins a ghostly reign of terror: reappearing bloodstains, clanking chains, haunting moans. As is revealed by Lord Canterville (Sir Simon's descendant) and the servants Mr. and Mrs. Umney, numerous people have stayed at Canterville Hall in the last few years and have all been scared away by Sir Simon - the locals start betting on how long the Otis family will stay.
Virginia 'Ginny' Otis, the daughter, starts to get suspicious when it becomes apparent that the mysterious noises are not her younger brothers playing tricks and discovers a mysterious prophecy in a book about the house's history. She also discovers a secret passage in the library that leads to a cell where Sir Simon resides during the day with his raven familiar Gabriel. Initially disliking the house and life in England, Ginny starts to appreciate her new home and becomes attracted to Francis, the young Duke of Cheshire, who has also seen Sir Simon's ghost. Unfortunately, Hiram does not believe in ghosts and accuses Ginny of trying to scare the family so they'll return to America.
Sir Simon becomes infuriated by the family's resilience and is himself scared by a fake ghost that the boys built. Angrily chasing the Otis children, Sir Simon causes Ginny to get in even more trouble with her father - who is so sceptical he can't even see Sir Simon. Ginny uses the secret passage to return to the cell and yells at the ghost for getting her in trouble, but ultimately ends up befriending him. Later, Francis takes a walk with Ginny and explains that Sir Simon was suspected of murdering his wife Lady Eleanor and his fate remains unknown. He and Ginny eventually separate in the Canterville chapel, but Sir Simon appears to the tearful Ginny and advises her to not let her fears ruin her chances of finding true love. Ginny follows his advice and makes her feelings apparent to Francis.
Hiram, still blaming Ginny for the strange happenings, decides to send Ginny back home to America. Going to Sir Simon for help, Ginny also explains how her father doesn't believe in ghosts (much to the ghost's bemusement) and they plot to trick Hiram into believing. They will perform a scene from Shakespeare's Hamlet and Sir Simon will play the ghost of Hamlet's father (a character he claims to have inspired). During the performance, however, Sir Simon suddenly chickens out and disappears halfway through the scene - even worse, Hiram insists it was a special effect (although the rest of the family are sure it was a real ghost).
Ginny sneaks back to the cell that night and discovers that the lines of the play brought back sad memories for Sir Simon. He confesses that he drove his wife insane after being tricked into thinking she had been unfaithful and that Lady Eleanor killed herself. Surrendering himself to Eleanor's family for punishment, Sir Simon was locked in the cell to starve and cursed by a witch, who condemned him to haunt the house by night and lament the death of his wife by day - Sir Simon has not slept for centuries and can only rest if he is redeemed and allowed to pass on. Ginny wants to help him, so Sir Simon takes her to the library and reveals that she has already fulfilled part of the prophecy, she has wept for him. Next, she must pray for him. Finally, Sir Simon takes her through a portal in the fireplace to the "Realm of Darkness" to plead to the Angel of Death on his behalf.
The next morning, Hiram goes to Ginny's bedroom to try to make amends and discovers she isn't there. Panicking, the family search the house and estate aided by Francis, the Umneys, Lord Canterville and the locals. They find the cloak Ginny was wearing last night in the library and everyone but Hiram realises that Ginny has been taken away by the ghost. Hiram starts to hear Ginny's voice in his mind and sees her image in Sir Simon's portrait, causing him to start believing in ghosts. That night, they hear a mysterious noise and rush to the library, where the fireplace opens again to reveal Ginny trying to get home from the Realm of Darkness - her family and Francis rescue her before the portal closes.
Ginny takes the family to Sir Simon's cell and they find his chained skeleton. Gabriel disappears, no longer needed, and they hear the chapel bell (which is broken) ring out. Outside, a dead almond tree comes back to life and blooms, fulfilling the prophecy and confirming that Sir Simon is redeemed.
The family decide to stay at Canterville indefinitely, with the blessing of Lord Canterville (who gives Ginny a ring that once belonged to Lady Eleanor) and have Sir Simon's remains buried in the garden beside Lady Eleanor's. Francis and Ginny visit the grave and Ginny thanks Sir Simon for everything he taught her about life, death and how love is stronger than both. Ghostly voices are heard, implying that Sir Simon has been reunited with his wife and is finally happy.Emmy - 1996 - Outstanding Individual Achievement in Music Composition for a Miniseries or a Special - Ernest TroostFamily Film Award - 1996 - Best Actor - TV - Patrick StewartFamily Film Award - 1996 - Best Actress - TV - Neve CampbellFamily Film Award - 1996 - Best Television Film - Sydney MacartneyFamily Film Award - 1996 - Outstanding Television Film - Robert BenedettiSaturn Award - 1997 - Best Single Genre Television Presentation (nomination)Patrick Stewart - Sir Simon de Canterville (The Ghost)Neve Campbell - Virginia 'Ginny' OtisDaniel Betts - Francis, Duke of CheshireCherie Lunghi - Lucille OtisEdward Wiley - Hiram (Harry) OtisRaymond Pickard - Washington OtisCiarán Fitzgerald - Adam OtisJoan Sims - Mrs. UmneyDonald Sinden - Mr. UmneyLeslie Phillips - George, Lord Canterville