Based on the life of Father Damien (David Wenham), a Belgian priest who volunteered to set up a parish on Molokai, the Hawaiian island home of a leper colony in the late 19th century. His dedication and care changed the lives of the suffering lepers before medication and humanity caught up with their plight. He is not helped by the Catholic hierarchy of Fr Fousnel (Derek Jacobi) or even Bishop Maigret (Leo McKern) and definitely not by Prime Minister Gibson (Sam Neill). But Hawaiian Princess Liliukalani (Kate Ceberano) is much more sympathetic.

A flawed but fascinating film

Father Damien, a Belgian missionary, played by David Wenham, arrived in the Hawaiian islands in the early 1870s and volunteered to work in the leper colony on Molokai. Ignoring the advice of his Bishop, Leo McKern, to keep his distance from the lepers, Damien dedicates himself wholly to the members of his sickly flock, attempting to restore the dignity of people abandoned to this remote and wild place by so-called civilization. As years go by, he enlists the help of the Princess of Hawaii, Kate Ceberano, and constantly pleads with the Prime Minister, Sam Neill, and others for support. His heroic efforts on the part of people less fortunate than himself resulted in his canonisation in 1995.

There`s still a leper colony on Molokai and that\'s where Paul Cox and his crew filmed this inspirational story.

The film was the most costly ever Belgian production, and Cox didn`t initiate it; he was, in effect, a gun for hire. He and the producer disagreed a great deal during production and post-production, and the screenplay, by John Briley who wrote another inspirational screen biography, Gandhi, is not at all the kind of material Cox - who usually writes his own scripts - was used to working with.

The result is a flawed, but fascinating, film. The scenes on the island with the lepers, which showcase David Wenham`s remarkable performance, are the best, and there are some fine performances in minor roles - Peter O`Toole as a dying Englishman, Tom Wilkinson as a lay priest who comes to join Damien notable among them. Molokai, despite its troubled production history, is well worth seeing.