The Least Of These: The Graham Staines Story (PG) 

In a Word: Inspiring

 The Least of These3

Stephen Baldwin plays Graham Staines and Shari Rigby plays Gladys Staines in The Least Of These.

 

"While the film depicts what is a tragic event, this is also ultimately a redemptive story, one which resonates with the power of forgiveness and that of the power of love to overcome hate."

With his first child about to arrive in the world, Manav Banerjee (played by Bollywood star Sharman Joshi) is a journalist in search of a breakthrough story to secure his job and his family’s future.

When taking on a new job with a newspaper in the then Indian state of Orissa (it was later renamed Odisha), he comes across Australian Christian missionary Graham Staines (Stephen Baldwin) and his wife Gladys (Shari Rigby) who are living with their young family - sons Philip and Timothy and daughter Esther (played by Campbell, Isaac and Emily Ellis) - in India where they’re helping the tribal poor and people who have leprosy.

But tensions are rising in the community, particularly among Hindu hardliners, over concerns that Christians - and Staines in particular - are illegally proselytising among Hindus. Knowing that it’s a story that would provide him with the breakthrough he needs if he could prove it to be true, Banerjee, under increasing pressure from his editor (played by Prakash Belawadi), sets out to find the evidence against Staines.

But instead – unable to find the evidence of people being paid to convert that he seeks - he finds himself deeply challenged by their work.

Based on actual events that took place in early 1999, The Least Of These is centred on the story of missionary Staines, who was burned to death in a stationwagon along with his two cricket-loving sons, Philip, 10, and Timothy, six, at the hands of mob driven by Hindu extremists. A number of men were later convicted over the murder including ringleader Dara Singh who was sentenced to life in prison.

Following the murders, Staines' widow Gladys forgave the killers of her husband and sons and continued to work in India until eventually returning to Queensland in Australia in 2004.

The character of Banerjee is a fictional invention for the film but it's through his story that we are introduced to the Staines family and the impact they have on the community in which they live.

Shot on location in India, The Least Of These does a good job of capturing the sense of a community in turmoil and the hardships lepers, even those who had been cured, and Christians faced at the time.

It’s also sensitive in the way it looks at the idea of anti-conversion laws which remain a hot issue in India today – “They have this law for a reason because there’s people out there not doing the right thing ,“ Graham Staines says at one point in the film, “We have to be above reproach.”

While the story is a powerful one in its own right, the cast do a solid job of bringing it to life under the hand of director Aneesh Daniel (and the accents, though both Staines’ are played by Americans, isn’t really an issue) and capturing, broadly, a sense of the calling to mission that the Staines felt. And, given the basic plot is already well-known, writer Andrew Matthews and director Daniel do a good job in keeping the viewer interested with the subplots involving Banerjee providing plenty of interesting turns along the way.

While the film depicts what is a tragic event, this is also ultimately a redemptive story, one which resonates with the power of forgiveness and that of the power of love to overcome hate. Recommended.