The Four Feathers is generally what you expect from
a splashy costume drama: excellent acting, an epic journey
and great costumes. Except for the costumes, which I guess
couldn’t really be spiced up too much from the drudgery of
the sand and the monochromatic red coats, The Four Feathers
aptly provides heady doses of drama and emotion to give you
no less than what you expect—and that’s the problem.
Harry Feversham (Ledger) is an aristocratic British
soldier engaged to the beautifully demure Ethne (Hudson).
When he and his military friends, including best friend Jack
(Bentley), receive the order to depart and fight in
the Sudan, Harry resigns his commission. After his departure,
his three friends and his fiancé send him each a white feather
signifying his cowardice. To redeem himself Harry sets off
after his friends to save each of them in the desert to his
Although the plot is dated (A.E.W. Mason wrote the
novel back near the turn of the last century), the emotions
of courage and helplessness that Harry feels are very much
palpable. It takes guts to stand up for what you believe and
his character resonates with earnestness in his convictions.
We see Harry surprisingly transform little as he journeys
on his epic adventure. All he comes back with is a different
haircut and a bit more bravery. I guess it matters little
that he doesn’t change much since his closest friends do enough
changing for them all. Ethne and Jack conveniently learn the
value of loyalty and honesty, while the sun-bronzed Harry
is as resolute as before.
Powerful performances from Heath Ledger and Djimon Hounsou
carried the movie that spanned for more than two hours. While
in the desert, Harry encounters mercenary warrior, Abou Fatma
(Hounsou), who soon becomes his friend and constant rescuer.
The best parts of the film are the ones involving Harry and
Abou, which play out like a typical, but tender buddy movie
where the characters share laughs, tears and friendship.
Brotherly love is felt throughout the film and is never more
poignant than when Harry saves his best friend Jack in the
desert. Blinded and groping around, Jack cries on Harry’s
shoulder and presents a convincing scene that might make you
evaluate your own friendships.
The only thing that stuck out in the film was the musical
score provided by James Horner (Titanic, A Beautiful
Mind). With native chanting more strident than that of
The English Patient’s score and weighty orchestration,
the music was a bit melodramatic and ruined the mood of the
beginning scenes and key battle sequences.
The Four Feathers by no means rivals Kapur’s
previous masterpiece, Elizabeth, which chronicled the
Virgin Queen’s rise to the throne and occasional sexual exploits.
Kapur adds another sweeping epic to his resume and one can
only wonder whether his next project will continue his consuming
interest in India’s former colonizers.
Other than the powerful acting and dramatic scenes, nothing
really stays with you from the film. There are neither questions
to ponder nor themes to interpret. The Four Feathers
is just a pretty period piece that probably won’t have a whole
lot of repeat viewership. Even with its heavy emotion and
intense journey, it’s a featherweight in its class.
Editor’s note: The 1939 Zoltan Korda version is much,