- AnnaSophia Robb as Samantha Parkington
- Kelsey Lewis as Nellie O'Malley
- Mia Farrow as Mary Edwards
- Jordan Bridges as Gardner Edwards
- Rebecca Mader as Cornelia Edwards
- Olivia Ballantyne as Jenny O'Malley
- Hannah Endicott-Douglas as Bridget O'Malley
- Kenner Ames as Mr. O'Malley
- Michael Kanev as Eddie Ryland
- Donna Goodhand as Mrs. Frouchy
- Karen Eyo as School Principal
- Keir Gilchrist as Factory Boy
- Shary Guthrie as Teacher
- Jackie Brown as Factory Lady
- Shae Norris as Agatha Pitt
- Clare Stone as Emma
- Nancy E.L. Ward as Lillian
- Janine Theriault as Beatrice Pitt
- Katie Henney as Host of "Behind the Scenes"
- Nadia Tass: Director
- Anna Sandor, Valerie Tripp: Script Writers
The movie begins in April 1904 at Grandmary and Samantha's Mount Bedford home. Samantha is running away from Eddie Ryland and quickly climbs a tree to get away. Eddie locates her up the tree and says that she's so dumb she probably thinks three times four is twelve. Samantha says that three times four is twelve and that if he doesn't leave her alone she'll take his money jar and dump it in the river near their home. Eddie says she's too dumb to find it. Samantha is about to retort, but loses her balance and falls out of the tree. Eddie turns to laugh at her as she gets to her feet with a torn stocking and messy clothing; she begins to chase him again. Eddie runs up to his house just as a carriage pulls up to the Ryland home with Nellie, her father, and her two sisters. Samantha asks who they are as Mr. O'Malley helps the girls out the back; Eddie says they are the new servants and the biggest of the girls is his new maid. Samantha says she's too young and that perhaps her mother is the maid. Samantha stays and watches as they unload.
Bridget is impressed with the house and their father says to come along. Bridget complains of being tired; Nellie says to Jenny that she knows she's hungry but it will have to wait. The girls stop to look at the carriage as their father continues carrying their things inside; the four of them will be living in one room. As the girls are waiting, Eddie runs up, preps his slingshot, and breaks a window. Just as Samantha comes up Eddie goes to Nellie, accusing her of breaking the window by throwing a rock. Nellie denies this; Eddie says he will tell on her unless Nellie gives him a penny. Nellie says she doesn't have a penny. Samantha walks up and says that Nellie won't pay anything and that if Eddie doesn't stop causing trouble she'll tell his mother he took one of her good petticoats to make a kite's tail. Before anything else can happen, Mrs. Ryland begins to call for Eddie. Eddie runs off. Nellie thanks Samantha, calling her "miss". Samantha introduces herself and says she lives next door. Nellie introduces herself and her sisters. Samantha says not to pay attention to Eddie and Nellie says they must if they intend to keep their place. Da comes and tells the girls to come along. As they walk off Samantha follows them and asks if Nellie will be going to Mount Bedford School with her. Nellie says she's there to work. Samantha asks if she can see her tomorrow, and Nellie repeats that she'll be working long hours, especially given the size of the Ryland home. Before Samantha can ask any more questions, she is called by Mrs. Hawkins.
Samantha runs up, excitedly chattering about the Ryland's new servants. She's about to head indoors when Mrs. Hawkins notices her stockings and says that her grandmother will not be pleased with them in that state. She tells Samantha to wash her hands before Samantha makes her way inside. In the hallway, Samantha does her best to fix herself up and hide the hole in her stocking before going into the parlor, where Grandmary is working on embroidery. Grandmary greets her and hopes Samantha has a good explanation for the hole in her stocking. Samantha says that she fell. Grandmary asks her if she was running and Samantha say she wasn't running when she fell. Grandmary cautions that haste makes waste and Samantha makes her way to the piano. She is about to tell Grandmary about the O'Malleys when Grandmary interrupts and says to begin her piano practice. Samantha tries to tell her again but is told to begin playing. Samantha starts playing as Jessie brings in the afternoon mail. Samantha asks if there is a letter from Uncle Gard and asks if he is coming back as he said he would and that he didn't miss his boat back. Grandmary, annoyed, tells Samantha to just finish her practice. Samantha looks out the window to see Eddie flying his kite and Nellie carrying laundry, now dressed in servant's clothing.
After practice, Samantha goes out to see Nellie, who is hanging the wash to dry. Nellie greets her with "miss" and Samantha says not to call her miss; Nellie says she'll get in trouble if she doesn't. Samantha asks Nellie where she is from; Nellie says New York. Samantha says that her Uncle Gard lives there and Nellie says she and her father worked at a factory there but Da thought they would be better off in the country. Samantha starts to ask about Nellie's mother, and Nellie says she died last winter. Samantha asks if it would help to bring books for her to read and Nellie says she doesn't know how to read. Samantha offers to teach her to read. Nellie protests and Samantha says that she could bring sit-down work and that she could teach her then as it wouldn't be hard.
That evening, as Samantha is working on a sampler and Grandmary on her work, Jessie brings in a package. Samantha asks Jessie how old she was when she started working as a maid. Jessie nervously does not answer her question. Grandmary then tells Samantha that she should not discuss personal matters with the servants. Samantha says they discuss things such as that in the kitchen. Grandmary says that this is not the kitchen; the secret to a happy household is that everyone should know their place. Samantha reluctantly says she understands. Grandmary asks if she is enjoying her needlepoint; Samantha says yes, and Grandmary says that she will then have no interest in the package that is addressed to her. Samantha rushes over, noting it is from Uncle Gard who is not due back for another three weeks, before opening it up to reveal a hand held stereopticon. She is instructed to put in the first slide which will show where he is—Paris, France.
Samantha shows the stereopticon to Nellie the next day; Nellie is impressed. Samantha says that Uncle Gard is the best with presents and that he is going to take her to the Saint Louis World's Fair for a week in July where she will see fancy things and eat different foods. She says that Uncle Gard is the best person she knows. Nellie asks if he is better than her ma and da, and Samantha goes very quiet and walks back to the case for her stereopticon. Nellie asks if she said something wrong; Samantha suggests they start reading lessons. Nellie apologizes, and Samantha explains that both her parents died on the river in an accident. She offers to show their picture and opens her locket to show an image of her mother and father. Samantha wistfully says that her mother sang to her and she tries to remember her voice, but it slips away. She doesn't ask Grandmary because it hurts her too much to talk about her daughter's death, so Samantha keeps her parents close by wearing the locket. She then changes topics and says that she likes Nellie being there and that they will be good friends. Nellie says she's never had friends outside of her family and the two girls pledge to be friends forever before starting the reading lesson. The two girls are later shown walking by the river as Nellie practices reading, showing the passage of time and Nellie's improving literacy skills.
Much later, Samantha is reading from her book while Nellie beats a rug and her sisters are winding yarn. Bridget tells Jenny to stop fidgeting, and Nellie walks over to guide them. As Nellie comes back, Samantha asks if Jenny talks and Nellie says she hasn't talked since their mother died. Nellie continues to beat the rug and Samantha, saying it looks like fun, asks if she can try. She hands her book to Nellie; she reads while Samantha beats the rug. Mr. O'Malley comes over coughing and asks if they're done with the rug, and Samantha apologizes and says that it's her fault for all the dust. Mr. O'Malley says there is no fault and asks if Nellie is done because Mrs. Ryland has an errand for her. As Nellie runs off, Mr. O'Malley thanks Samantha for her kindness towards his girls. Samantha says no thanks are needed as the girls are her friends.
An automobile horn sounds and Samantha excitedly says that it's her Uncle Gard back from Europe. She makes hasty goodbyes and runs back to her house. Uncle Gard is pulling up in an automobile with a woman next to him. Samantha runs up for a hug. Gard asks if Samantha got his present; Samantha says it's lovely and Gard says he has an even bigger surprise for her. She asks what it is and he says that it won't be a surprise if she's told. Samantha asks for a ride in the car and Gard say that first he has someone he wants her to meet. As they come around the corner Samantha sees the lady that Gard helped out of the car and Gard greets her affectionately. He escorts her over and introduces her as Miss Pitt, whom Samantha met at Christmas. Cornelia requests she be called by her first name. Samantha greets her and then asks if they can go for a car ride. Gard says in a moment. Cornelia says that she heard that Sam likes to read. Samantha requests she be called by her full name. Cornelia correct herself and gives Samantha a copy of The Wizard of Oz as girls in New York City love the book. Samantha reluctantly accepts the gift. Gardner says they should head inside; Samantha protests for her car ride. Gardner say they should go inside and see Grandmary first.
The three are escorted into the parlor by Mrs. Hawkins and Grandmary greets Gardner very warmly. Gardner introduces Cornelia and Grandmary tensely greets her, saying it's a pleasant surprise to see her. Cornelia returns the greeting and says that she was told that Gardner would say she was coming, but she can see he did not. Gardner says that he likes surprises. Grandmary says they will have time to catch up later and Mrs. Hawkins will show Cornelia to the guest room. Cornelia thanks her and leaves. Grandmary whispers that Gardner should warn her when guests are coming; Gardner smiles sheepishly and then hands the hatbox to Grandmary which has an elaborate hat inside. Gardner asks if Admiral Beemis has been to see Grandmary recently, and Grandmary dismisses Gard coyly. Gardner looks at Samantha and asks if they were going to do something. He pretends to not remember and Samantha excitedly drags him out of the room, with Grandmary asking where they are going. He and Samantha go on the anticipated car ride.
That evening over dinner the topic of the trip comes up, with a small discussion on Impressionism and Monet. Grandmary asks how the firm has managed without him as Gard has been gone for quite some time. He says they probably haven't noticed he was even gone and that Cornelia is the one making a name for herself, organizing suffrage meetings all over the city. Cornelia says that she does not think this is the time to discuss that. Grandmary says she sees no reason women should need to vote, as women of her time managed to influence society without needing to stand on a soapbox. Cornelia says that she thinks that if women are to follow the laws in the country, they should have a say in who those leaders are and that Samantha should have as much of a say as the boy next door. There is tense silence and the meal continues.
Samantha asks what the other surprise was. Gardner says that he was going to wait but decides to announce it over dinner. Samantha asks if he is moving to Mount Bedford, and he says no. He announces that Cornelia has accepted his proposal of marriage. Cornelia says they had been discussing this for a year; while in Paris he got her parents' blessings. Grandmary tensely says that she is happy for the both of them and then prompts Samantha to do the same. Gardner says that since Cornelia's family lives abroad, they are hoping to have the wedding in Mount Bedford in the conservatory in July. Samantha and Grandmary are shocked and Grandmary says that it's rather soon. Gardner says he doesn't want to wait as he has found the woman of his dreams. Cornelia asks if Samantha will be her bridesmaid. Grandmary points out she's quite young. Cornelia says her sister and niece will be the matron of honor and flower girl but she does not have a bridesmaid and asks again. Gardner asks Samantha to say yes. After looking at Grandmary who nods, Samantha gives a very reluctant yes.
Samantha is on the lawn the next day, alone with the stereopticon. Gardner finds her, then sits down and says that he knows she's upset with him. Samantha says she doesn't want things to change anymore. Gardner says that Samantha has had more change than most ought to have but that Cornelia will be a good friend and that he is sure that if Lydia was still alive they would be close. He says that she is smiling down on them right now and that Samantha is like her mother in many ways, both in looks and mannerisms. He takes the stereopticon and looks through it, pointing out that Samantha was looking at the Saint Louis Exposition; he then remembers that he was going to take Samantha to it and will not be able to now. He asks what he can do to make it up. Samantha blames Cornelia and Gard disagrees. Samantha says that once Gard's married, he will have his own family and forget her. Gard says that Samantha is part of his family, and will always be his little girl. They hug fondly.
Samantha is practicing the piano later in the parlor. Grandmary compliments her after she is done. Samantha asks if Grandmary like Cornelia. Grandmary hesitates, then says she certainly does as Cornelia is going to be part of the family now and that as much as they would like things to remain the same, they are going to change and it should be accepted with grace.
Samantha and Nellie are reading in the hedges; Nellie is reading Peter Rabbit skillfully and finishes it. Samantha remarks on how quickly Nellie learned to read. Cornelia walks over with two plates of cake and Nellie says she should get back to work; Cornelia asks her to stay a moment so as to test which cake she should have. She asks them to take a bite and decide which is better, almond vanilla or lemon. Nellie says the lemon is a little better, and Cornelia asks her to taste again. Nellie and Samantha both choose lemon, and Cornelia says that it will be lemon then. She then says that she should just give the rest to the dog. Nellie says that cake's not good for dogs, and Samantha says they don't have a dog and suggests they take the cake to Nellie's sisters. Cornelia agrees and gives them the cakes. Samantha gives Cornelia a dirty look as she leaves and Nellie says that Cornelia's not so bad. Samantha does not respond.
Later Samantha is shown being measured by a seamstress who asks Grandmary what she wore at her wedding; she describes a dress of Belgian lace with pearls, crystals, and a bow above the bustle. Samantha laughs at the bustle, and Grandmary says it was the height of fashion. Samantha says to talk about the veil, and Grandmary does so in fond tones. Samantha says that her mother wore it too. The seamstress returns with lavender satin, Samantha's favorite color.
That evening, Samantha comes down the stairs and hears Gardner and Grandmary talking together. Gardner, wanting to make up his not taking Samantha to the fair, says that she should come and live with them. Grandmary says it will be impossible as they will be newly married and the last thing he needs is a child on his hands. Gardner says they should share the burden and it will only be a few months. Samantha listens, upset, as they keep speaking.
That night she walks out in her nightgown, teary-eyed, and throws rocks to wake up Nellie. Nellie comes out with a lantern and Samantha tearfully says that she couldn't sleep because she kept hearing Grandmary and Gardner's voices in her head talking about sending her away to New York as she's a burden. Nellie says that Samantha's shaking from the cold and Samantha asks Nellie to come with her because she doesn't want to be by herself. They go to the boathouse, where Samantha has a secret hiding place filled with several beautiful things. Samantha explains that this was where the boat was kept, and when her parents died no one came there anymore. Samantha goes there to remember them. Nellie gets under the covers with Samantha and asks what Sam does out there. Samantha says she reads mostly, but sometimes makes wishes. It depends on her mood: sometimes she wishes for her parents to come back. Nellie says her da says there's no sense in wishing for what you can't have and better to wish for what you do, but she still misses her ma. Sam says that if she goes to New York she'll miss Nellie. Nellie says she can write every day and Sam says she can write back. Nellie points out a doll and asks her name; Samantha picks her up and says she is named after her mother, Lydia. She asks Nellie to keep the doll if she goes away, as she wouldn't trust her with anyone but her best friend. They look up at the stars and Samantha says the first star is the wishing one. They both wish on the same star and fall asleep.
They are woken up by Eddie, who mocks that he found them. Sam says for him to go away and Eddie says he wants a nickel to not tell. Sam asks how much it would take to never see him again. He laughs meanly and runs out saying that he found them. Samantha and Nellie get up and head out of the boathouse.
Outside Mrs. Ryland meanly lectures Nellie, calling her senseless and saying everyone was looking for her. She further says that her servants do not trespass onto others' property or sleep outside with the neighbor's children. before turning to Grandmary and apologizing. As she walks away, Samantha says it was all her fault as she woke Nellie up and asked her to spend the night with her. Mrs. Ryland says that regardless, she expects her help to behave well at all times. Grandmary says she thinks they meant no harm, and Mr. O'Malley steps in and asks forgiveness as Nellie is young and forgets her place. Nellie sobbingly apologizes to Grandmary, who says it's all right. Samantha runs over and hugs her tightly.
Later, Gard comes into the boathouse and shows Grandmary Samantha's secret place with several of Lydia's things such as pictures and her journal. With this discovery, Grandmary agrees that a few months away would be good if Gardner and Cornelia can manage. Samantha, overhearing, runs off. Later on the lawn Grandmary says to Samantha that Gardner and Cornelia want to invite her to New York City and that it will be good for her; Grandmary will take the time to see her sister, Frances. Samantha apologizes for taking her mother's things to the boathouse and Grandmary say that she is not being punished. Samantha says she won't do it again. Grandmary explains that when people are gone sometimes all that is left is memories and she would be upset if Samantha didn't have a special place for her mother. Lydia did the same thing; she had a kitten named Mabel whom she loved and one day when Mabel didn't come home, she took Mabel's things and placed them in the boathouse the same way. She kisses Samantha on the forehead.
There is a jump to Summer 1904 and the day of the wedding. Samantha comes downstairs in her bridesmaid dress and both she and Grandmary proclaim it lovely. The house is ready for the wedding, and Grandmary and Samantha go up to see Cornelia. Cornelia's sister, Beatrice, and niece, Agatha, are with Cornelia. Samantha and Grandmary say that Cornelia looks lovely. Grandmary offers Cornelia some jewelry that has been in the family for years to wear and as they discuss this, Jessie sets Cornelia's veil down. Agatha walks over, picks it up unnoticed, puts it on her head, and twirls around. The veil catches on an oil burner underneath a curling iron and alights; Agatha screams and the women all turn around. Cornelia flings water on the fire and yanks the veil off the flames, but it is ruined. Agatha sobs that she didn't mean to ruin it and Cornelia soothes her. Samantha then runs to the boathouse and take her mother's veil, which is stored in a box. She gathers it in her arms and runs back as Cornelia finishes dressing, then offers the veil to Cornelia to wear. Cornelia says she can't, but Grandmary insists and helps her put it on. The wedding and ceremony goes off with no further problems.
At the reception, as Samantha is getting food and greeting people, she overhears two of Cornelia's friends, Katherine and Elizabeth, discussing the wedding and how Gardner is a "fine catch" for Cornelia. Elizabeth says that Cornelia has married well. Katherine says not so well, as she heard that his niece—-Samantha—-is coming to stay with them until Christmas; she further laments that Cornelia will be obligated to have a ready-made family only less than a month after being married. Samantha is upset at hearing this. As Gard and Cornelia leave for their honeymoon, Gardner takes Samantha and says that in a month they'll be back for her. Cornelia tosses the bouquet and Grandmary catches it before handing it off to another lady. Gardner further says that it was very generous of Samantha to lend her mother's veil to Cornelia, and Samantha says she did it for him; he says he knows. The two leave for their honeymoon.
Later, Nellie calls for Samantha with a surprise. She has Eddie's money jar, as she watched him when he bullied the milkman and followed him to his hiding place in the well. Nellie wonders what they should do with it, and Samantha thinks of the perfect plan. In church, as the collection plate is being passed, Samantha dumps the whole jar into the plate, drawing attention from the other members including Eddie. Nellie, who is sitting in the back with her father and sisters, stifles laughter. Samantha looks at Eddie, who is furious. She then looks at Nellie and laughs.
The month is soon over, and Cornelia and Gard come to gather Samantha. She promises to write Nellie three times a day. Nellie asks Samantha not to forget her and Samantha promises that she'll be back before she knows it and they will spend untold amounts of Christmases together. Samantha promises that not even New York City will keep them apart.
There is a jump to Autumn 1904. Samantha, Gard, and Cornelia are taking a tour of New York City and Samantha's voiceover relates this to Nellie in a letter. They go to Madison Square to see the Fuller Building and Samantha sends her a slide to look at through the stereopticon. Samantha discusses the various people speaking different languages and the hustle and bustle of the city with the carriages and automobiles; she also mentions that a subway will open soon and sends a slide of the construction to Nellie to view. Samantha tries chestnuts as suggested by Nellie and prefers the smell to the taste.
Samantha also talks about school, which she doesn't care for. She has started at Miss Crampton's Academy for Girls and is introduced as a new student from Mount Bedford and invited up to speak about her home. Samantha explains some things and when the teacher asks what river Mount Bedford is on, Samantha says the "How-son"; her classmates laugh and, embarrassed, Samantha corrects herself to say "Huss-son" and finally Hudson before apologizing and sitting down quickly. The teacher, Miss Stevens, and leads into a lecture on the Hudson River as Samantha stares are her lap and wishes Nellie was with her. She concludes by asking Nellie to write back soon.
Nellie, who is seen raking leaves, sits on one of the baskets and voiceovers her own letter. She apologizes for not having written much, but her dad is sick and she's had to do more chores. She thinks Uncle Gard's house sounds fine like the houses her father pointed out in Gramercy Park. She misses Samantha and can't wait for her return.
Over dinner, Cornelia discusses a friend, Mrs. Vandergeld, who has installed a shower in her house and describes it to Samantha; Gardner considers the idea ridiculous and voices that Cornelia would probably want one. He then gets out a letter for Samantha from Grandmary; she has been to see Admiral Beemis and they laugh. When Cornelia asks for an explanation, Gardner explains that Beemis has proposed to Grandmary at least twice a year for the last dozen years. Cornelia teases that this is probably why Grandmary thought she and Gardner were rushing.
The next time at school, Miss Stevens announces that the school is having a speaking contest on the topic "Progress in America"—the topic can be anything exciting and new. Edna raises her hand and asks if she can write on the telephone and Miss Stevens says this is a good example. Samantha brings up factories and another girl, Emma, raises her hand and says that her uncle runs a factory and asks if she may write on that. Miss Stevens says that students may write on what they want but only twelve speeches will be chosen to be presented in front of the entire school at the Christmas program and are due by Thanksgiving.
A suffrage meeting is being held at the home headed by Cornelia, who implores that now is the time for women to vote and they will have a peaceful gathering at Madison Square Park, sponsored by Mrs. Vandergeld and Mrs. Winthrop a week from Tuesday when women in all forty-five states will be doing the same. As the meeting ends. Mrs. Vandergeld walks over and says she is glad to have met Samantha and asks her if she wants to vote. Nervously, Samantha says no. Cornelia says that she won't have to then as it's the right to vote they are fighting for, not the requirement. Mrs. Vandergeld makes her leave.
Samantha is practicing her speech when Gardner walks in and asks about school. Samantha asks if he wants to hear her speech and he agrees. Samantha practices her speech on factories being a sign of progress. Cornelia comes in with the afternoon mail; Samantha asks if any of it is for her. There is a postcard to all of them from Grandmary, but no news from Nellie. Samantha worries as she has not heard from her in weeks. There is a letter from Mrs. Hawkins; Cornelia skims it and the family learns that Nellie's father has passed of influenza. Samantha, distressed, asks to see the letter and says that Mrs. Ryland sent the three girls to an orphanage in New York City named Coldrock House. Samantha asks if it's near and if she can go see them. Gardner says he will get the address and stop there tomorrow to arrange a visit.
Samantha practices the piano and Cornelia asks to stay and listen. Samantha plays the piece through, and Cornelia compliments her. Samantha says that Gardner says Cornelia reminds him of her mother. Cornelia takes it as a compliment. Samantha goes on about memories of her mother. Gardner comes home, interrupting the conversation. He located the orphanage but could not see Nellie as the orphanage won't allow people who aren’t family to visit unless they are serious about adoption. Samantha and Cornelia are outraged. Samantha says there must be some way to go see Nellie. Cornelia says that Mr. and Mrs. Vandergeld donate to several orphanages in New York city and Coldrock House could be one of them; she excuses herself to call the Vandergelds.
Samantha and Cornelia go to Coldrock House; Cornelia introduces herself as having arraigned a meeting with Mrs. Frouchy. Mrs. Frouchy comes to meet them, saying that she was told by Mrs. Vandergeld of their arrival and that she spoke highly of Cornelia; Mrs. Vandergeld is Coldrock House's most generous benefactor. Cornelia requests a tour and Mrs. Frouchy, after much hesitation, agrees. She has the matron take baskets from Cornelia and Samantha. As they are walking, a group of girls is escorted by the matrons and one servant tells one girl to wait to let Cornelia and Samantha past before sharply yelling at another to not talk. Cornelia looks at the woman with no small amount of disgust before Mrs. Frouchy leads them along, saying that Cornelia must understand the importance of rules for such girls. Obedience, order, and discipline must be taught if the girls are to find homes.
They are taken through the dormitories for younger girls, with beds crowded tightly. Cornelia notices that there are not enough beds for them; Mrs. Frouchy says that two will soon be leaving to a good home in the country. Samantha notices Jenny and Bridget with their heads down; they see her and light up but she motions for them to be quiet. Mrs. Frouchy then walks them through the dormitory for the older girls (from nine to sixteen). Cornelia asks if Samantha may hand out fruit; Mrs. Frouchy agrees, calling her a well behaved child. As Cornelia escorts Mrs. Frouchy out of the room, Samantha locates Nellie. Nellie is glad to see her and Samantha says she looks pale, giving her gloves to her. Nellie asks if she saw Jenny and Bridget and if they are okay; she confesses to Samantha's shock that she hasn't seen them since she arrived and they probably think she's abandoned them. Samantha asks if they can go outside and Nellie says she only goes outside at four o’clock to dump the ashes. Mrs. Frouchy comes back in, saying the girls must rest now. Cornelia asks if Samantha is ready; Samantha, whispering to Nellie that she'll be there at four, comes along. Mrs. Frouchy gives Nellie a cold look as she escorts Cornelia and Samantha out.
Samantha takes a large basket to the back of the classroom the next time she is in school. Emma asks her what it's for. Samantha says old coats or anything for the orphanage and that they need to help. Emma sneers that she doesn't need to; the girl next to her says she has old things to give and will bring them. The next time Cornelia and Samantha come to the orphanage, they bring Thanksgiving treats to give to the children. Cornelia goes inside and Samantha says she will wait outside. As soon as she can she goes to the back to see Nellie who is dumping the ashes and hands her some rolls. Nellie says that Mrs. Frouchy has threatened to send her out on the orphan train if she doesn't behave. She further explains that Jenny and Bridget are too young to go and so would be left behind, breaking up the family. Sam says that she can't let that happen and she will have to think about what to do but she won't let the three of them be separated. Over Thanksgiving dinner, Gardner says to the maid Gertrude that Samantha has been chosen to speak at the Christmas program and that it's a shame Grandmary won't be there and Cornelia says that she'll just have to hear Samantha by herself. The turkey is brought out and Samantha wishes that everyone could share their blessings before they give a prayer.
Samantha later comes to the orphanage with a basket of old coats and, catching Nellie, says everything is ready and they must hurry; she's come to take the three of them away with her now. Nellie says she's scared; Samantha says it will be okay and to go get her sisters and meet her at the coat closet in five minutes. Nellie gets her sisters and as they head down the stairs, they see Samantha talking to a matron saying that she's brought old coats and that she can just normally leave them by the coat closet. Samantha is allowed in and goes to Mrs. Frouchy's office to find Nellie. Meanwhile, a maid asks about depositing the donation money; Mrs. Frouchy requests that she be the one to hold on to it for safekeeping. The girls hear Mrs. Frouchy coming into the office and all hide, with Bridget hiding under the desk. Mrs. Frouchy comes in with the money as Nellie and Bridget peek. Mrs. Frouchy only puts in part of the money away properly and tucks the rest in her waistband before locking the safe. Bridget sneezes, alerting Mrs. Frouchy to their presence; the four girls go running out of their hiding places and Mrs. Frouchy trips over Bridget as they run out. Mrs. Frouchy begins to scream as they get past the doors, alerting the police and stating that someone stole her "babies" and the donation money. The four girls run all the way to the Edwards house and Samantha sneaks them upstairs to the attic. Bridget sees food and cheers; Nellie requests she be quiet as they can't get caught. They're wards of the State and since they belong to the state, they'll be sent back to Coldrock if caught. The girls began to eat and Samantha points out the pajamas she's laid out for them. She got everything up there by saying it was for a family in need. Hearing people downstairs, Samantha says she'll be back later. When Nellie asks how to thank her, Samantha says that it's just what friends do.
Downstairs, Gertrude escorts Mrs. Frouchy into the hallway, saying that Samantha has been home all afternoon. Mrs. Frouchy disagrees, saying that her matron said she was at the orphanage a short while ago, and now some of her girls and $200 are missing. She says that if she finds out Samantha is involved, she'll report her. Gertrude politely requests Mrs. Frouchy leave. Samantha heads back upstairs and explains what happened to Nellie including the accusation of theft. Nellie says it's a lie and that she hopes Samantha does not get in trouble on her account. She resolves to go out and get a job as soon as she can to try and get her own place for her and her sisters. Over dinner, Gardner mentions Mrs. Frouchy's visit. Cornelia says something must be done to stop her.
A montage of Samantha practicing the piano is interspersed with her sneaking food upstairs to Nellie, Jenny, and Bridget. Samantha writes a letter to Grandmary about seeing her at Christmas and that since Nellie and her family are in New York she is the only one missing.
There is a jump to Winter 1904. Bridget is in bed ill and Jenny is dripping water on her forehead. She gets up and sneaks to Samantha's room, tugging at her to get her to go upstairs. Samantha goes with her and sees Bridget sick in bed. Samantha asks where Nellie went and Jenny doesn't reply; she looks around and, finding a want ad for a factory, uses this to make her way to the factory. She makes her way inside and to the garment factory; the manager mistakes Samantha for an applicant to work and tells her to write her name and then get behind the others waiting to work, trying to shove her out the door. Suddenly a young boy screams that his finger is stuck in the machine. The manager walks over and says that if the needle's broken it will come out of the boy's pay; he tries to yank the needle out while the boy screams and the needle breaks. The man screams for him to get out while a matron comes over and escorts the boy out. Samantha sees his hand and covers her mouth in shock. The manager says there is an opening and escorts in another worker. Sam says she's looking for Nellie and the man says again to go wait behind the others. Samantha refuses and, seeing Nellie, makes her way over and says she needs to come with her. The manager says that if Nellie leaves she will lose the machine and won't be allowed to come back; Samantha says that Bridget is sick and Nellie leaves with her. Samantha asks why she wasn't told what factory work was like and Nellie says that people don’t like to know where stuff comes from long as it comes. They make their way home. Nellie says that it's her fault for leaving and that's why Bridget's ill.
Samantha makes her way to the parlor. Gardner and Cornelia ask about Samantha's speech and Samantha replies that she needs to talk to them both. She explains that Bridget is sick upstairs. Gardner calls a doctor who says she's quite ill and not to move her. Cornelia comes back down when Samantha and Nellie are waiting, explaining that the girls will all stay there until Bridget is better. Nellie says that she was brought her with her sisters to prevent being separated; Cornelia says they aren't supposed to break up families at orphanages and Nellie says that orphanages do a lot of things they shouldn't do before going upstairs. Samantha apologizes; Gardner says that she shouldn't have broken the law and she could have come to him. Samantha says that they don't even want her here and that she heard Cornelia's friends at the wedding said it was a shame she was coming to live with them. Cornelia says that this isn't true. Samantha says that no one touched the money and that Nellie and her sisters can't go back. Gardner says he has to take them back and Samantha protests.
At the orphanage, Mrs. Vandergeld is having tea with Mrs. Frouchy, who says she will not press charges against Samantha if the money is returned. She then says that with Christmas coming, more donations may be needed to make sure the children are well taken care of during the holidays. Mrs. Vandergeld agrees and says that because of that wish, Mrs. Frouchy is being replaced; the board of directors were not happy with how she was running Coldrock. They never intended the place to be run like a prison and that there have been long rumors of misappropriated funds (she does this while looking at Miss Frouchy's fine coat and hat). Frouchy tries to deny the claims but is silenced by Mrs. Vandergeld. She then makes her leave, to Mrs. Frouchy's disbelief, and meets with Cornelia before leaving.
At the Christmas program, Emma completes her speech and Samantha goes up as the final speech. She has changed her speech completely, however; Samantha makes it about the danger in the factories to children and how America cannot say that they have made good progress as long as people are being hurt, especially children, and Americans can only be proud of progress when children are in better conditions. Cornelia and Gard applaud her loudly and others join in. Afterwards, Samantha makes her way to Gard and Cornelia who have Grandmary with them as a surprise; Admiral Beemis is with her and compliments her. Miss Stevens walks over and says that Samantha did not give the proper speech and she has been disqualified. Cornelia and Grandmary protest; Grandmary harshly scolds the teacher and she makes her leave in embarrassment. On the carriage ride home, Cornelia asks her to give the speech to her woman's group and Samantha talks about how Gertrude is overworked and that perhaps they will need three more maids, especially if she comes to visit more often. Gardner then asks if Samantha will stay with them permanently; Samantha says she would leave Grandmary alone and Gardner says that this won't happen as she is marrying Admiral Beemis. Samantha agrees to live with them. They come home to a lovely tree and Gertrude says that she put it up with help from Nellie and Jenny. Samantha asks to open presents now and is told no but that she can work on her letter to Santa. Samantha asks if Santa knows that Nellie and her sisters are here and Gard says Santa knows everything. They hang their stockings and set out cookies, and notes. There is a large pile of things for the orphanage; Cornelia has gotten many people to donate enough for a large feast tomorrow on Christmas. Samantha and Nellie are in bed together that night and Nellie wonders where she and her sisters will be next year. The two make a wish and goes to sleep.
The next morning Bridget is well enough to get out of bed and Cornelia greets all four girls. Before they can get to the tree, Gardner stops them and says he has something to discuss. Samantha had asked for the three girls to stay as maids; however, he does not need three new maids. He and Cornelia, however, do need three sisters for Samantha and says he is willing to adopt the three girls and asks if this is okay with them. Nellie says yes, Bridget says yes, and when Gardner asked Jenny she speaks for the first time, saying, "Jenny says, 'yes sir!'". They then have Christmas morning and later, the family goes to the orphanage to give gifts to the orphans. Afterwards, they go on a sled ride back home. Nellie asks if they are dreaming and Samantha says that if she is, she doesn’t want to wake up.
- Mount Bedford is more of a rural area rather than a small town; Samantha's house is very large with lots of land and on the banks of the Hudson River.
- In the movie, it is implied that Samantha's parents died in a boating accident on the river near the house rather than at Piney Point.
- Samantha wears her locket on a chain, not on a brooch pinned to the front of her dress.
- Samantha meets Nellie in the springtime and not the summer; furthermore, she gets no prior knowledge of her arrival from Eddie Ryland and only learns of her and her family on the day they arrive.
- Miss Crampton's Academy for Girls is located in New York City; Samantha does not attend the school before she moves there to live with Gardner and Cornelia and instead attends Mount Bedford School.
- Gardner and Cornelia's wedding is held at the Mount Bedford home instead of at Cornelia's parents' home (they are said to be living overseas), so it is a much easier task for Samantha to get her mother's veil as a replacement and she gets it with no help from Gardner. The wedding is held in the summer instead of the spring and Samantha is the only bridesmaid.
- Samantha is sent to live with Gard and Cornelia the fall after the wedding instead of after Grandmary's marriage. Grandmary is using the time to go visit her sister Frances and does not marry Admiral Beemis until much later in the movie (and even then only accepts his proposal by the end of the movie). The motivation for sending Samantha to live with Gardner and Cornelia is that Grandmary is partially worried about Samantha's perceived obsession with her late mother.
- Miss Hawkins writes the letter informing Cornelia that Nellie and her sisters have been sent back to New York and to an orphanage rather than Nellie writing to Samantha directly saying they have gone to live with their Uncle Mike.
- It is only the threat of Nellie being sent on the orphan train leads to the girls running away with Samantha; in the books, Nellie says she has been chosen to be sent away. Their escape is spotted, rather than going unnoticed or addressed by Mrs. Frouchy, and Mrs. Frouchy accuses Samantha of theft of the money (that she has been taking for herself) and the girls.
- Samantha sees factory work firsthand when she goes to locate Nellie, who has been working after the three girls are hidden in the attic; Nellie works briefly in a garment factory instead of a thread factory, and people of all ages are seen instead of just children.
- Samantha directly tells Gardner and Cornelia about her hiding the girls in the attic due to Bridget's illness instead of Gertrude finding them and being upset.
- Samantha's school speech is made in the winter as part of a Christmas program, rather than the fall. While it is, as in the books, initially a positive look on factories as progress and later changed to be against factory work, it is changed because Samantha sees the dangers directly when she sees Nellie at the factory and a boy injured. Rather than winning the contest with her changed speech, she is disqualified.
- In order to coincide with the holiday season promotion and themes of the movie, Nellie and her sisters are adopted on Christmas Day instead of Valentine's Day.
- Samantha's eyes are blue (as AnnaSophia Robb's are) and are not digitally edited to be brown.
- Nellie's entire family works for the Rylands, not just Nellie, and the family only works for the Rylands; the Van Sickles are not included. Nellie is sent away from the Rylands with her sisters after her father's death rather than alone for being an inadequate maid.
- Nellie and her sisters never attend school formally; Nellie is taught to read by Samantha directly and is completely illiterate before Samantha starts to teach her.
- Cornelia does not hide her suffragette leanings from Grandmary as in the books, and both she and Gardner are upfront about Cornelia's political views.
- Jenny is a selective mute who stopped speaking after her mother died and remained so until being adopted by Gardner and Cornelia.
- Jessie is a common maid for the family, and a different black woman is the seamstress. Since there is no Jessie to clean her up, the hole in Samantha's stocking from falling out of the tree is addressed by Grandmary.
- Agatha in the movie is Cornelia's niece, not sister (Cornelia is given a sister closer to her age, named Beatrice). She is a young child and destroys the veil by accidentally touching it to an oil heater while playing with it rather than cutting it apart.
- Samantha initially feels that Cornelia and Garden do not like having her around and that she is a burden to them and being made to stay with them, rather than being happy to live with her aunt and uncle in New York City.
- Nellie's mother has already died several months before the family arrives at the Ryland home. Thus, only her father dies of influenza that winter.
- Uncle Mike is not seen or mentioned in order to slim the plots down; the O'Malley sisters are immediately sent to Coldrock House after their father's death.
- Mrs. Frouchy remains the head of Coldrock House. However, in the movie she is characterized as much more cruel and deceitful, and is taking money from the donations given to the orphanage by the rich; this leads to her outright dismissal from her position, which does not happen in the books as she is not addressed after the O'Malley girls leave, nor does she make any attempt to get them back or accuse Samantha of "stealing" them or any money.
- Gertrude is much kinder to Samantha and the O'Malley girls.
- Eddie's money jar is anachronistically filled with modern-day coinage.
- The calendar written on the chalkboard in Samantha's classroom mentions September 1904 starting on a Tuesday. September 1, 1904 fell on a Thursday.
The movie premiered on television on November 23, 2004, on the WB Channel.
The DVD and VHS tape were released on November 30, 2004; early editions came with a locket matching Samantha's worn in the movie. The movie could be ordered from American Girl with a bonus copy of Lights, Camera, Samantha!. Retail cost for this set was $19.95 for the DVD and $14.95 for the VHS. A deluxe DVD edition of the movie was released on November 30, 2010, to celebrate American Girl's 25th anniversary. A tenth anniversary DVD edition of the movie was released on November 4, 2014; there were no changes with the DVD extras. Retail cost was $14.95. The cover design reflected that year's BeForever redesign of the historical line and the re-release of Samantha. American Girl retired the DVD in 2020.
The original DVD edition presented the movie in fullscreen format and contained the following extras:
- American Girl Place: Tour Experience
- Mount Bedford News: A Victorian Wedding
- Musical Number from the American Girls Revue Stage Show
- DVD-ROM Weblink to AmericanGirl.com
- English, French, and Spanish subtitles
The deluxe and tenth anniversary DVD editions presented the movie in widescreen format and contained the following extras:
- Votes For Women
- All About Samantha, An American Girl
- Mount Bedford News: A Victorian Wedding
- English Subtitles
These items and outfits, along with the dolls, are displayed in the movie; many are modified from the collections' looks or only shown as select components.
- Samantha's Holiday Coat
- Nellie's Holiday Coat
- Nellie's Holiday Outfit
- Central Park Sleigh and Accessories
- Samantha's Bridesmaid Dress
- Samantha's Bridesmaid Accessories
- Talent Show Dress
- Samantha's Stereoscope
- Samantha: An American Girl Holiday: The Complete Telescript of Samantha's Movie
- Lights! Camera! Samantha!
- Samantha: An American Girl Holiday: The Complete Telescript of Samantha's Movie, pg. 63: BEATRICE, Cornelia's sister, and AGATHA, Cornelia's young niece [...]
- The telescript identifies the two women as two of Cornelia's jealous friends, Katherine and Elizabeth.
- Calendar for September 1904