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Proteus (2003)

Not Rated | | Drama , Romance | 7 June 2004 (USA)
An interracial gay love story set in early 18th century South Africa about two men -- a black prisoner living in a Cape Town penal colony and a Dutch sailor -- who weather injustices as a result of their affair.


John Greyson, Jack Lewis (uncredited)


John Greyson (script), Jack Lewis (script) | 1 more credit »

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1 nomination. See more awards »


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Cast overview, first billed only:
Rouxnet Brown Rouxnet Brown ... Claas Blank
Shaun Smyth ... Virgil Niven
Neil Sandilands ... Rijkhaart Jacobz
Kristen Thomson ... Kate
Tessa Jubber ... Elize
Terry Norton Terry Norton ... Betsy
Adrienne Pierce Adrienne Pierce ... Tinnie (as Adrienne Pearce)
Grant Swanby ... Willer
Brett Goldin Brett Goldin ... Lourens
A.J. van der Merwe A.J. van der Merwe ... Settler
Deon Lotz ... Governor
Jeroen Kranenburg Jeroen Kranenburg ... Scholz
Andre Samuels Andre Samuels ... !Nanseb
Johan Jacobs Johan Jacobs ... Nama Prisoner
Katrina Kaffer Katrina Kaffer ... Kaness


A recreation of the decade-long love affair in the 18th century in a Cape Town penal colony on Robben Island. The two lovers were a Dutch sailor imprisoned there for sodomy and a young Khoi herder. The Khoi were part of the Hottentot tribal group and as such were the untouchables of that time. The two were placed on trial and this love affair and the legal battles are the grist of Greyson and Lewis' film based partly on court transcripts from the time. In South Africa, during the 1700s, sodomy was a crime deemed worse than murder, and the fact that these two young men had indulged in it was also complicated by the fact that this was an interracial love affair. Written by Sujit R. Varma

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Drama | Romance


Not Rated | See all certifications »



Canada | South Africa


English | Afrikaans | Dutch | Nama

Release Date:

7 June 2004 (USA) See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Pluck Productions See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Dolby SR


See full technical specs »

Did You Know?

Crazy Credits

Beneath the opening title, the phrase 'Based on a true story' appears in Africaans, then in Dutch, and then English. See more »

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User Reviews

Deserved better production quality
4 November 2005 | by movietrailSee all my reviews

So as not to repeat what other thoughtful reviewers have already stated, let me agree first that in many ways it is a very powerful film (though I would definitely not call it cinema), thanks almost totally to the remarkable acting skill and pathos of the two leading men, charged with the sin of loving each other and being quite physical about it.

However, especially during the first quarter, one gets the impression that you are watching a reject from educational TV due to overall filming quality (or lack thereof), which of course I'm sure is due to lack of funds, rather than lack of skill in directorship.

The glaring anachronisms look like goofs at first, but then again not even the worst Hong Kong director would send a jeep to look for thieves in 1730 (though he might make prisoners gather eggs with plastic bags and sound sirens in the background every now and then). You start to get the hint.

As other reviewers have pointed out, the modern costumes and props supposedly serve to tell us (wink-wink) that things haven't changed so much (or at least between 1730 and 1965, which is the period of most of the out-of-place costumes) and it still pretty much sucks to be homosexual. In 1965, at least.

While I realize the directors are trying to make a point, the presence of 1990s props and 1965 beehive hairdos with polyester suits just make the movie look cheaper, even satirical, especially in light of the fact that the photography basically resembles a home video on a tripod. To me, the intended anachronisms were just a distraction; and I don't need to be reminded that things are still very much the same, thank you very much. In any case, it just seems to underline lack of budget more than anything else. And lack of imagination.

Anyway, back to the film (not movie). Despite all the critical comments I have reserved for the directing and filming, the story of the happy-go-lucky "Hottentot" and sullen Dutch sailors' relationship was extremely well told and acted out, to the point where the hand-cam and plastic bottles and barb-wire fences didn't matter so much any more. It's a bit of a mystery why Shaun Smyth (the chatterbox botanist) got billing over Neil Sandilands (the sailor), whose few terse-but- loaded lines and facial expression spoke volumes more than one might imagine. In fact the whole film could have been made with just the two leading lovers and the rest as extras (the acting ability of most of the others left something to be desired).

As for the erotic part of the film, it could very well border on porn (again, due to the video look) except that it is much more human and realistic, and yes, touching. Anybody whose tastes run to lean-and-muscular men will definitely get their nickel's worth.

If this film was intended to get certain people thinking about humanity and justice more than they have been, it will probably not attain that goal, as it is so gay as it will probably fly over the heads of even some of the most understanding heterosexuals.

But it's great if you like to see proteas blooming fast-forward.

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