Set against the rise of fascism in 1930s Europe, WHILE ENGLAND SLEEPS tells the story of the love affair between Brian Botsford, an upper-class young writer, and Edward Phelan, an idealistic, self-educated employee of the London Underground and a member of the Communist party.
Though by far the better educated of the two Brian is also more callow, convinced that his homosexuality is something he will outgrow. Edward, on the other hand, possesses 'an unproblematic capacity to accept' both Brian and the unorthodox nature of their love for each other - until one day, at the urging of his wealthy aunt Constance, Brian agrees to be set up with a 'suitable' young woman...and soon enough Edward is pushed to the point of crisis.
Fleeing, he volunteers to fight in Spain, where he ends up in prison. Brian, responsible for Edward's flight, must pursue him across Europe, into the violent chaos of war.