Four Feathers

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Movie Review by Toby White

Starring: Heath Ledger, Wes Bentley, Kate Hudson, Michael Sheen, Djimon Hounsou
Director: Shekhar Kapur

I’ve often wondered when films would take on the same principle as theatre. Original ideas not withstanding, the “remake” is already a staple of Hollywood but this is the fifth rendition of the story known as THE FOUR FEATHERS so you’d be forgiven for thinking that films may adopt that repeat staging that seems to suit theatre. But enough pointless conjecture, the story of THE FOUR FEATHERS really has spanned the history of cinema. Previous incarnations of this classic tale of betrayal and redemption date back as far as 1915, when it was a propaganda piece for a flagging British Empire. Now, however, it’s been brought up to date with the story being more about betraying one’s friends than one’s country. How clever.

For those of you that might not know it, in brief: Harry Feversham is a brilliant young officer in the British Army in 1884 with a beautiful fiancee, envious friends and a promising career. But on the eve his unit gets posted to suppress insurgent muslim activity in the Sudan, he has a bout of nerves and bails out. His three friends and his fiancee are shamed by this betrayal, sending him a white feather as a mark of the coward, hence the title. Now, for its portrayal of Army life in Victorian England, the early stages of the film suffers the fate of so many Americanised period pieces in being oh so terribly twee and – and I’ve no idea why they do this – but littered with modern colloquialisms and mannerisms. But fear not, with Heath Ledger being the morally stout hero-type that he is, just as Harry sets off to the Sudan to redeem himself, THE FOUR FEATHERS becomes an absolutely cracking movie.

The moment we set foot into the searing North African heat, everything about this film comes together and the first thing we see is Robert Richardson’s stunning cinematography. Richardson, defying convention, decided to shoot into the sun. I know, I know, it sounds crazy but you’ve got to see this. Anyone who doesn’t normally look out for the photography in a film can’t help but be swept away by the way the desert is captured – and, no, I’m absolutely not drawing any comparisons to LAWRENCE OF ARABIA – but just look this guy up on the internet to see his credentials. You’ll almost want to see this film on the cinematography alone. Believe it or not, though, it’s merely the icing on the cake. Shekhar Kapur’s camera direction is inventive without compromising the period setting and the fight/battle scenes are really edge-of-the-seat stuff – and before you ask, I don’t care how many cliches I chuck into this critique, I loved this film. Even James Horner’s score, usually so mawkish in its over-indulgence of a swollen string section, had me humming the title theme as I came out of the cinema. Finally – if you’re still reading – the performances; for one thing, Heath Ledger, Wes Bentley and Kate Hudson mastered their delivery of an aristocratic English accent so convincingly it almost makes you chuckle with relief. And you heard it hear first: Hudson’s going to be up for an Oscar.

For the praise I’ve heaped on this film it begs the question, why has its release been so delayed? Perhaps because of its potentially contentious political content, a favourite scapegoat of the movie moguls. Among industry circles at least, it became common knowledge that the production was dogged with problems from sandstorms to soaring budgets and apparently it seems that nearly every post-production facility in London alone has a story to tell about THE FOUR FEATHERS…but you know what, it was definitely worth the wait.

5 out of 6 stars