The Four Feathers (15)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner14/07/2003

Three out of Five stars
Running time: 131 mins

Classic, old-fashioned ‘ripping yarn’ in which stunning photography and impressive action sequences make up for narrative gaps and some dodgy acting.

Shekhar Kapur’s adaptation of A.E.W. Mason’s classic tale The Four Feathers played at the London Film Festival last year and had its release delayed several times in the interim, partly because of the recent war but also because there was talk of re-editing it. In the event, however, it was left untouched and is the same 131 minute version as the US and LFF release.

Bashing Johnny Foreigner

Heath Ledger and Wes Bentley play Harry Faversham and Jack Durrance, best friends in the British Army. When Faversham announces his engagement to Ethne (Kate Hudson), Durrance can barely contain his seething jealousy but the situation changes drastically when the Army is called upon to go out to the Sudan and give Johnny Foreigner a sound trouncing.

Agonising over it for a good five minutes, Faversham resigns his commission in the army, leading his friends to ostracise him for cowardice by sending him the titular four feathers (symbolising cowardice, the Victorian equivalent of yelling “Chicken!” and going ‘Buk, buk, buuuuuuk’). To make matters worse, Ethne dumps him, so Faversham eventually heads out to the Sudan anyway, blacking up and tagging along in disguise in order to help his friends however he can.

Essentially, The Four Feathers is a straightforward, old-fashioned gung-ho adventure story – you’ll look in vain for allegories involving the modern situation in the Middle East, for example.

On that level, it succeeds, thanks to some magnificent action sequences directed by veteran action coordinator Vic Armstrong – a shot (used in the trailer) of the battalion forming a square and being viciously attacked on all sides is nothing short of breath-taking. The desert photography is also visually stunning, with some shots even seeming vaguely erotic.

Ledger Charisma-Free Zone

Where the film falters a little is in the casting. The supporting cast including Djimon Hounsou (as Faversham’s desert companion Abou) and Michael Sheen are all good and Bentley overcomes his occasionally dodgy accent by virtue of his ability to glower for England.

However, Ledger, despite being appropriately square-jawed and good-looking, is pretty much a charisma-free zone. Hudson, however, is the worst offender – her accent is all over the place and it doesn’t help that her character is extremely drippy in the first place.

The other problem is that the narrative occasionally takes huge, inexplicable leaps forward (characters are named but never appear), suggesting some less than judicious cutting in post-production.

That said, The Four Feathers is an enjoyable adventure story and is worth seeing, though whether it will attain the Sunday Afternoon Matinee TV status of the 1939 version remains to be seen.

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Content updated: 16/12/2017 01:22

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