The Four Feathers

Having been filmed at least six times before, A. E. W. Mason’s 1902 novel about courage and honour during the 1884 British campaign against Muslims is back for another outing on the silver screen. Unfortunately director Shekhar Kapur’s version is very impressive to look at but lacks real substance.

Heather Ledger is Harry Faversham, a general’s son and himself a young officer in the British army. Engaged to Ethne (Kate Hudson) and popular amongst his fellow officers, Harry looks set to be a career officer. His best friend and the fellow officer is Jack Durrance (Wes Bentley) is also a destined to be a career soldier it seems.

When news that Harry’s regiment is to be shipped out to the Sudan, where they are to face the Mahdi, a Muslim fundamentalist group who oppose British rule, Harry takes a decision that surprises all. Torn between his love for Ethne and questioning the value of dying for the Queen, Harry resigns his commission.

Three close friends and Ethne, disgusted by this show of cowardice, present Harry with a white feather each, symbols of disgrace. Only Jack shows any support for his friend, even when Harry’s father disowns him. Branded a coward by almost everyone he knows, Harry, is determined to prove otherwise and sets off to the Sudan on his own.

Upon their arrival in North Africa, Harry’s friends and former regiment find that they are unprepared and naively believed in their superiority. The enemy on the other hand is brutal and relentless during the fighting. Disguised as a Sudanese native and with the aid of a former slave Abou Fatma (Djimon Hounsou) acting in turn as his guardian, Harry makes his way across Sudan towards his former companions.

With Abou’s help, Harry ultimately becomes an invisible protector for his friends, while they themselves remain completely unaware of his presence.

The Four Feathers is directed by Indian-born director Shekhar Kapur and is one of the most visually stunning films of late. There are many lingering shots of beautiful desert landscapes, which contrast well with the Victorian setting in the first part of the movie. Also the red of the British uniforms against the desert backdrop make for impressive shots. The visual look of the film is comparable with classics such as Lawrence of Arabia and Oscar winning cinematographer Robert Richardson has excelled again.

Performances are pretty standard all things considered with the exception of Wes Bentley and the superb Djimon Hounsou. Bentley is surprisingly good as Harry’s best friend, and unlike the rest of the cast, Ledger included, seems to be the only British character that doesn’t look like he is playing dress-up. Hounsou is superb again and it’s a shame that he being locked into this type of role – he played a former slave in Amistad, a former slave in Gladiator and now a former slave in The Four Feathers.

There are many coincidences that seem out of place during the film that detract from the overall story. The key one is why would a Nubian warrior, who is a skilled desert warrior, such as Abou, would allow an unskilled, badly trained and unequipped English boy take command of him and his services? Surely the Abou character would make for a more interesting hero? Harry spends much of his time foolishly getting into near-death situations and has to be saved time and time again.

Overall, despite its faults, The Four Feathers deserves much praise for the direction and cinematography and the fact that the film makers went against the trend and didn’t try to update the classic novel. However, with only a couple of well choreographed and intense battle scenes during the films 2 hours + running time, some might have to be nudged awake for them.

Score 5/10