The Highwayman himself is an aristocrat who leads a party of associates to hold up the well-to-do and distribute their takings to the needy. This campaign is broadened when they discover that innocents are being kidnapped and sold into slavery in the colonies. The finale however follows the poem more closely as the Highwayman is betrayed to the authorities, soldiers march to set an ambush, his lover Bess sacrifices herself to give warning and the hero is shot down on the highway as he gallops to take revenge.

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