In 1850 on the small, isolated Canadian island of Saint Pierre, a sailor, Neel Auguste, murders a man and receives the death penalty after a quick trial. Saint Pierre lacks the necessary tools for an execution. While they wait for a guillotine to arrive from the French government, Neel Auguste is put under the surveilance of the island's army captain. The captain's wife becomes fascinated by the prisoner and initially lets him do small jobs around the house, but Neel soon becomes an indispensable presence in her life and in the community. He repairs cottages and plants flowers, and his eagerness to do good makes him one of the most popular residents of the island. When the guillotine finally arrives, the army captain defies orders and calls off the execution, but his merciful act is regarded as sedition by the French government, and he receives his own death sentence.