In this film based on the Herman Melville novel, handsome, young Billy Budd (Terence Stamp) joins the British navy during wartime, where his skill quickly makes him a trusted crew member. However, sinister master-at-arms Claggart (Robert Ryan), secretly jealous of Billy, accuses him of treason. Billy strikes Claggart in anger, causing him to fall and die. Capt. Vere (Peter Ustinov) feels pity for Billy but believes that maritime law requires that Billy be executed for killing an officer.