This sober drama presents the exciting and consistently intriguing life and work of a Canadian surgeon whose soul was too large for institutional medicine in his native country.

Donald Sutherland, in a role that is tailor-made for him, stars as Norman Bethune, an idealist who hates fascism so much that he risks his life to support the Loyalists in the Spanish Civil War and then Mao in China in 1938.

In both situations, this creative surgeon pioneers battlefield medical procedures to save lives. Helen Mirren plays his wife, a woman who finds it difficult to live with a man who demands to have everything his way.

Director Phillip Borsos makes the most of a magic moment in Bethune's life when Mao's troops pass by the doctor and pat him on the back in gestures of true camaraderie. It's as if Bethune has been waiting all his life for that simple and genuine moment.