(around 1725) South Africa
In 1725, a young Khoi herder, Claas Blank, is sentenced to hard labour on Robben Island, Cape Town's penal colony. The prison garden is run by Virgil Tyne, an English botanist who is naming and cultivating South African protea species for the European market. Tyne is entranced by the quick-witted Blank, and the youth soon finds ways to manipulate the repressed botanist, exchanging native lore for guilders and favours.
Blank works alongside a Dutch sailor, Rijkhaart Jacobsz, who is serving time for sodomy. Despite mutual prejudices, the two prisoners are strongly attracted to each other and begin a tentative affair, accidentally witnessed by Tyne. Their affair transgresses vast cultural taboos, and unleashes confused feelings of desire and jealousy that neither have a name for. Tyne returns to Amsterdam where his protea schemes fail.
A decade passes, and the prison authorities continue to ignore the ongoing 'friendship' of Blank and Jacobsz. Then Tyne returns to the Cape, fleeing a sodomy scandal in Amsterdam, where 70 men (including his partner Ourens) were tried and executed in the city square. His return is catastrophic, inadvertently triggering the arrest of Blank and Jacobsz on sodomy charges.
Tyne makes a desperate intervention to the court, intent on saving Blank, but the herder refuses to play along. When he received news of the destruction of his family in commando raid Blank tells the truth. For the first time he names his feelings for the Dutch sailor. In the process, he condemns them both to death. The two prisoners are drowned off the shores of Table Bay.
Proteus is a film by Canadian director John Greyson released in 2003. Set in 18th century South Africa, the film dramatizes the true story of Claas Blank (Rouxnet Brown) and Rijkhaart Jacobsz (Neil Sandilands)
Picture: from the movie Proteus