PROTEUSSouth Africa in the year 1725. A young Khoi herder named Claas Blank is convicted before a white court to forced labour on Robben Island, a penal colony off the coast of Cape Town. Blank has been accused and found guilty of attempting to re-acquire cattle that had been commandeered by white settlers.
On Robben Island the alleged cattle thief is set to work in the nursery garden where English botanist Virgil Niven is cultivating a species of protea with which he hopes to take on the international tulip market. Niven is impressed by the young prisoners quick mental grasp and before long, the young man is giving his superior botanical tips for which he in turn receives the odd privilege or two.
Another prisoner working at the nursery is a Dutch sailor named Rijkhaart Jacobsz who was convicted for homosexual misconduct. In spite of their considerable differences the two prisoners find themselves attracted to each other. Its not long before their feelings transcend the cultural taboos that lie between them and they become lovers.
Niven stands by, confused, as the relationship between these two men evolves and deepens. Even on his return to Europe, Niven finds it hard to forget Claas Blank. For ten years, the prison authorities turn a blind eye to the friendship between these two prisoners. Then, one day, Niven who is himself running away from a homosexual scandal sets foot on Robben Island once more and catastrophe occurs . . .
This film is based on true events; the screenplay was written using case files discovered by Jack Lewis in South African archives.