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I was looking forward to an epic journey that fleshed out and brought up to date (movie-wise) the 1939 version. It was terrible. It should have been made in the 60's in cinema-scope and lasted for 33 hours, but what we got was a dumbed down version that didn't even hit all the plot points successfully. The characters were indistinct and couldn't be told apart. I was shocked at the nonchalance at which the fourth feather was exchanged. It should have been the last straw that made the main character face his fears and the punch at the end that restored him, but instead it is an afterthought. In short, I was very disappointed.
About friendship, about duty, about truth and it's consequences, about true
loyalty among friends, about parental expectation and it's
When I saw the "Four Feathers" I noticed the immense similarity to another film I had seen but days ago, "Black Hawk Down". That quote from Plato "Only the dead know the end of war", that the audience is given at the very beginning of the latest Ridley Scott film applies to the "Four Feathers" as well as it does to "Black Hawk Down".
Although the incidents which inspired those films are almost exactly one hundred years apart, the essence of the two plots is quite the same. Only the man next to you, most likely your friend one way or the other, counts. Nothing else. Both stories are surprisingly similar, though the motivation in "Four Feathers" is somewhat more personal than in "Black Hawk Down", the late twentieth century being more marked by conflicts that stir the world's elaborate common conscience, something that didn't exist that way in 1898. Although war itself has lost nothing of its disgusting and useless violence in those one hundred years.
A game of Rugby, young men, two fighting teams, the camera following these men, enabling the spectator to get a first impression of the protagonists and their relations to each other as well as the splendour and camaraderie of the British army at the end of the 19th century, before the real story sets in.
"Four Feathers" tells the story of one man who acts upon his feelings when he exits the British Army, whose friends interpret his honesty towards himself as mere cowardice and present him each with a white feather for his resignation. Only when he alone stays behind after having forsaken the war, he realises that he cannot and does not want to live with the fact that his friends and his beloved think of him as a coward and he acts. Alone in the Sudan, he leaves all his fear behind without question, driven by the worries for the fate of the friends he desperately tries to save.
It's an interesting combination, the Indian director who seems to just have a knack for thorough British history ("Elizabeth" too dealt with an almost mythical part of British History), and this historical era, again bringing it magically to life in his very own particular style. The photography is truly beautiful, the desert with it's wide spread dunes, the sparse vegetation as a threat to life itself but also a friend for those who understand its rules and live by it. The story of the film sometimes fails the attempt to bring the inner turmoil of the main protagonist creditably to the big screen. And it is maybe this discrepancy between the book, dealing with a single mind, and the movie, attempting to stay close to the book as well as entertain an audience, that explains why the story sometimes disintegrates and leaves the spectator quite alone.
The cast though is a real jewel what young Hollywood is concerned, Heath Ledger giving one hell of a performance, the inner turmoil of his character visible at all times on screen, carefully acted, seldom too much. The chemistry with Kate Hudson is certainly there, still Miss Hudson just doesn't look like a 19th century girl (but maybe the impression she left as "Penny Lane" is still too strong). Wes Bentley manages to simply be that Jack, the guilt-ridden and in the end sickly friend who is saved by the one person he gave a white feather for cowardice to. And Djimoun Hounsou who is always a real pleasure to watch. He evaporates the magic as well as the menace of his role towards his audience and his fellow actors and manages to keep the story together on more than one occasion.
The film is worth seeing it for the theme itself has lost nothing of it's explosiveness!
Lacking in tension, credibility, and pace, THE FOUR FEATHERS is a sore
disappointment from director Shekhar Kapur, who is capable of much better
The King's Own Cumbrian Regiment is off to the Sudan to defeat the Mahdist rebels who have attacked and massacred a British garrison. But the Cumbrians are going without their erstwhile lieutenant, Harry Feversham, who has resigned his commission to avoid combat in the Sudan. His three closest friends in the regiment, understandably outraged at Harry for leaving them in the lurch, each mail him a white feather, a traditional accusation of cowardice. His fiancee gives him a fourth feather. In despair, Harry sets off to the Sudan, hoping to rejoin his friends and prove to them that he is no coward.
The first half of the movie is unbearably slow, and exasperating too. The characters don't behave like Victorians, but like high school students from the 20th century who are ignorant of the values of the society around them. Harry's fiancee openly flirts with him unchaperoned and kisses him in public. Harry, like a refugee from our own non-judgmental era, seems amazed that his cowardice is met by rebukes from everyone around him. And his initial act *is* cowardly, no matter how hard the movie may pretend that it isn't. Harry doesn't refuse to fight because he thinks the war is wrong, or because he has conflicting obligations to meet; he admits that he would not fight for anything at all. One could hardly offer a better one-sentence definition of a coward.
The fact that Harry's initial actions really are cowardly is important: it means that his adventure to the Sudan is not an effort at vindication, but at atonement. And while he does prove that he can behave bravely, he is far more successful at proving that he is a hopeless bungler. For most of the latter half of the movie, Harry just follows his friend Abou around, and everything Harry attempts by himself comes to grief from which he is rescued by Abou, usually while Harry puts Abou's own life in serious danger. This does not satisfy the viewers' thirst to see Harry atone for his earlier cowardice. Just showing that he can be brave is not enough; he can atone only by undoing the harm he caused by his earlier decision to let his friends face danger without him, and because of his incompetence it is not he who does that, but Abou. It doesn't take long to start thinking, "Who cares about Harry? I want to watch Abou! He's the only guy in this movie who has the foggiest idea what he's about!"
The word on the street was that THE FOUR FEATHERS might be undone by politically correct posturing. That is not true. THE FOUR FEATHERS doesn't have a political bone in its body. Nobody bothers to explain what the Mahdi is fighting about, or even to mention that the Sudan of the movie's era is an Egyptian colony, not a British one. Nothing in the movie suggests what difference it makes to either the British or the Sudanese whether the Mahdists win or not. To those who don't already have an opinion, it's anybody's guess who has the right of this quarrel. At the end, the movie becomes expressly apolitical. As Harry's heroic friend Jack declares, the British Tommies don't fight for a flag or an idea. "We fight for the man on our left." Actually, the movie might have benefited from more political content. For one thing, it could have clarified why Abou, one of an unidentifed "tribe of slaves," is willing to help the British, who extinguished the slave trade throughout their empire in the 19th century.
As for the production values, Shekhar Kapur should be reported to the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Cameras for his constant torture of the focus control. He doesn't appear to understand that making everything blurry will not make him a better artist. Heath Ledger's role as Harry chiefly calls for him to cry a lot, which he does creditably. Djimon Hounsou is almost unrecognizable in his part as Abou, with a beard, a weird hairstyle, and a light coating of dust, but he has never been more charismatic; there's no doubt why the feckless Harry clings to this rock of self-confidence. Wes Bentley as one of Harry's former friends cuts a dashing figure and later does a convincing impression of disability. Kate Hudson struggles in a ludicrous role.
This movie fails on many levels, but it could have overcome any of those failures except one: the weak hero. It's not enough to make the protagonist suffer constantly to make us sympathize with him. He has to be worthy of something more than suffering in the first place.
Rating: *1/2 out of ****
Recommendation: Even action fans should skip this one.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
If you want to make a movie about a novel, I think you should
understand the novel. The writers of this screenplay did not understand
The first problem with "The Four Feathers" is that Harry (Heath Ledger) IS a coward. Had a Britsh officer done what he did he would have been in jail, not just branded a coward by his friends. To make the plot work you have to leave his motivation for resigning his commission vague. You need to believe that Ethne is somewhat unfair when she gives Harry the fourth feather. The motivation for Harry quiting the Army is that he wants to be with Ethne, the reason he goes to Africa is because he has lost Ethne and must win her back. In this movie Ethne give him the feather because of what Harry's cowardice will do to her social life, not because she thinks him a coward.
I really could not figure out what the writer was thinking of when he wrote the scenes in Africa. We need to see that Harry would have been a good officer had he stayed in the Army. That he is smart and capable. In this movie Harry is a dumb ass that should have died in the desert.
I did think that the Prison scenes where rather good. This is one place where they seem to have read the book.
As for the love triangle between Ethne, Jack and Harry. This has a vital role in the plot. We see that Jack is not brave enough to tell Ethne about Harry, because he is afraid of being alone.
Here is the main point (the moral) of the Novel. Not everyone that does not goto war is a coward and not that does is brave.
Having never seen the original 'The Four Feathers' film, I am assuming
that it was produced and made quite well and successfully in order for
a remake to be made. I think that the film had some good elements - or,
rather, the story had some good elements to it. This film, however, was
just depressing. The characters failed to engage me in any way, and the
whole plot seemed to be completely and hopelessly lost by poor acting
and poor direction. It was difficult to take the film seriously because
nothing seemed to come together for it.
I would not recommend this film to anyone. I saw this at the cinema and had to sit through it, and it was a waste of my money. Don't waste your money with this film. Maybe read the book or watch the original, but give this one a miss. Trash. 2/10.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is a review of "Storm over the Nile" (1955), "Khartoum" (1966) and
"The Four Feathers" (2002), three films based on British actions during
the Mahdist War (1881-1899).
The 19th century saw colonial powers scrambling across Africa. As the British Empire expanded from Southern Africa to the Mediterranean, the Ottomans expanded from Turkey to Northern Africa and the French from West Africa to the Red Sea. All three would converge upon Egypt, which would continually shift hands between the three Empires.
Britain eventually emerged victorious, becoming defacto ruler of Egypt in 1882. Egypt would henceforth become a base for further British expansion southward into Sudan. The Sudanese would attempt to fend off these advances. They'd rally behind Muhammad Ahmad, an Islamic messianic or "Mahdist" figure. Muhammad Ahmad was denounced by Sudanese elites, but embraced as a revolutionary leader by marginalised Nilotic tribes.
Experts at using divide-and-rule tactics, the British divided Sudan into loosely demarcated northern and southern zones. The north became Muslim and Arab dominated and was integrated with the economic networks along the Nile. The south, steeped in poverty, was treated as an "African zone". A cocktail of Muslim, Christian and tribal groups, the south Sudanese were indoctrinated into thinking themselves culturally/biologically distinct and inferior. Promising independence and even salvation (he claimed to be paving the way for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ), Muhammad Ahmad set out to overturn this. Like the countless Christian messianic figures who sprung up as a result of Roman occupation, and a precursor to contemporary Islamic militants, he was the inevitable product of naked Imperialism.
The city of Khartoum straddled northern and southern Sudan. To the North, the British suppressed the slave trade, heavily invested in social, educational and health services, and essentially nurtured a "liberalised" form of Islam. As colonialism recruitment policies favoured educated Arabs, a new socio-economic class was created so as to offer a bulwark against Mahdism and secular nationalism. An ideological bulwark, however, is no match for guns.
In 1884, after a three month siege, Khartoum fell to the Mahdists, who stormed the city and executed British governor-general Charles Gordon. The Empire reacted swiftly. British forces under Herbert Kitchener rolled in and slaughtered tens of thousands of Sudanese. By 1898, most Mahdists were crushed. Sudan henceforth became subject to joint Anglo-Egyptian governance.
Unsurprisingly, the British set out to exacerbate regional, religious and racial divisions amongst the Sudanese. In 1922, in what became known as the "Southern Policy", the Empire declared that southern Sudan would be considered a "Closed District". Islamic proselytisers were banned, Arabic languages and clothing were discouraged, and Christian missionaries were brought in to convert southerners. Meanwhile, southern Arab merchants were relocated to the north and interactions between the peoples of the north and the south were forbidden. Such segregationist policies were designed to keep the south economically backward and foster divisiveness.
Today, little has changed in Sudan. Artificially carved out of a myriad of peoples, with more than 400 ethnic and linguistic groups lumped together within its borders, the country remains ravaged by the divide-and-rule tactics of modern neo-Imperialists. Milking the nation's oil fields and precious metals, the United States, and recently China, have today become expert at funding and arming militias and bloody regimes in both the north and south.
Zoltan Korda would produce and co-direct "Storm Over the Nile" in 1955, a film based on "The Four Feathers", a 1902 novel by Alfred Mason. The plot? Refusing to sail with his regiment to the Sudan, Harry Faversham (Anthony Steel), the cowardly scion of a military family, overcomes his disgrace by travelling to Africa. Here he helps his regiment defeat Sudanese forces. As with many Imperialist adventures, the film glorifies queen and country, assumes the rightness of British rule, romanticises colonialism and posits loyalty and responsibility to the ruling classes as the highest ideal. Though stiff and dull in places, the film boasts several impressive action sequences, filmed in expansive Cinemascope.
The 1950s/60s saw the release of numerous films which attempted to rejuvenate British nationalism and which were determined to white-wash the realities of colonialism ("Zulu", "North West Frontier", "Khartoum", "55 Days at Peking", "The Black Tent" etc). Supercharged by the civil rights and independence movements of the 1950s-60s, such perspectives were slowly contested ("Gandhi", "Guns at Batasi", "Burn!", "The Man Who Would Be King", "Passage to India" etc), eventually giving rise to the latest adaptation of "The Four Feathers", a 2002 film which was so politically correct as to be ridiculous.
Directed by Shekhar Kapur, "The Four Feathers" (2002) tells virtually the same story as "Storm over the Nile". Here actor Heath Ledger plays Harry Faversham, who is no longer a "coward" but a man of conscience who has "ethical objections to colonialism". Harry travels to Sudan, where he befriends and fights alongside Africans and where he teaches us to question nationalism, exceptionalism and pride. Dull and conventionally shot, the film's attempts at "rectifying" its source material are mostly hokey. In some ways it is even more racist than Korda's film, Africans reduced to props, whole cultures reduced to ridiculous musical choices and second-hand "exotic" signifiers.
Released in 1966, and directed by Basil Dearden, "Khartoum" stars Charlton Heston as Charles Gordon, a British General sent to Sudan to battle Muhammad Ahmad (Lawrence Olivier). Gordon valiantly defends a fortress in Kartoum, but is eventually overrun.
By having its heroes outnumbered, like cowboys surrounded by hordes of manic Indians, "Khartoum" manoeuvres its audience into siding with colonialists. Elsewhere it uses Gordon's demise to criticise political leaders who refuse to rally behind valiant troops. Heston, who spent the decade battling hordes of on-screen "savages", is himself a caricature of British bravery, whilst Ahmad never rises above the level of black-faced bogeyman. Still, "Kartoum" has its merits. Impeccably shot, tense, filled with impressive battles and awesome landscapes, it remains the best of a certain brand of 1950s/60s, pro-Imperialist adventure.
5/10 - Worth one viewing.
Inspite of some of the review with due respect .. i still think
strongly that this majestic movie is not given the proper recognition
as they should have..
Heath ledger and Wes Bentley truly carry out their roles explicitly done , i like the part where ledger was being told by Ehtne that he should let go the love ... the reaction of Heath was just so precious... in shock and yet could not endure the pain of what he just heard..
the war scenes in the dessert and the capturing of the lead actors .. and the black guy who helped heath in this journey was just superbly supported and as well as well executed ...
all the while i thought this was a new original epic movie until i found out it was a remake ... but looking back i would not trade this version of any other version...
watch it and you will love it for life...
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The four feathers is the latest addition to a list of movies with the
same name and theme. The story: It is the high tide of the British
empire. Harry Feversham, a young officer in the queens army, asks and
gets dismissed from his regiment after he hears it will be sent to the
Sudan to fight against the Mahdi insurrection. His friends and fiancé
don't appreciate this behavior and each sent him a white feather as a
token of their disfavor. Harry then tries to redeem himself by going to
the Sudan and help his friends against the Mahdi.
I watched this movie to get a better understand of how movies are made. This movie certainly has amazing scenery that bring tears to your eyes by their beauty. The sharp sand color, the exotic people and desert landscapes, it all is impressive, as is the moist misty green england. But while the landscape, people and buildings are given much attention the story is told as if in afterthought and with a lot of movie errors. So many that even I noticed. Things in the movie just don't add up.
The first pivotal moment in the story is when Harry gets to hear that he is off to the Sudan. We seem him have an anguished talk with his friend Jack, then see him have bad dream and then next he gets himself dismissed in one go. It all happens in three minutes flat which seems enormous hurried compared to the ten minutes the movie takes to show the happy live. It is somehow too brief, too unexplained and too unbelievable that he can leave on the same day hey he tenders his resignation, without letting his friends know or him being thrown in the brig for cowardice?
You might expect that an important moment in the film is when his bethrotted sends him a feather(thus breaking off the engagement). But we are only told when someone comes visiting Harry: oh by the way who's the fourth feather? My former wife to be. The entire scene is also strange because we hear someone knock on the door, Harry opens the door and next the visitor is inside and they are talking about the feathers. Since the scene was dark I had the distinct feeling the visitor was still standing in the door opening.
Harry takes a trip to Egypt and then travels as part of a small caravan to the Sudan. The caravan brings hookers to the English army(we are told), but they aren't hookers(we are told later), but black Ethiopian princesses? And how come someone is bringing black hookers from Egypt to the Sudan? Should it not be the other way around? Anyway they kill the obnoxious caravan leader(who seems to be alone and unarmed?) knock out Harry who drags himself on a camel and rides to some place. After a while Harry drops to the desert-floor, the camel wanders off and in the next minute someone finds Harry! In addition we see in the background tracks in the sand. The desert seems quite a busy place.
Jack is chasing a Mahdi sniper, he carries a rifle, the next moment Jack has a pistol in his hand. The sniper is chased down a street and a minute later he is chased down the same street again.
Harry, disguised as a Mahdi, is charging amidst the Mahdi horde, first he carries a sword. Then he drops it when his horse is shot. Then he is on his horse again without sword, next he has the sword again. All the while he is at the head of the Mahdi horde even though he fell behind in a previous scene.
The English are attacked by a Mahdi horde. The Mahdi horde is killed to the last man with gun fire, but only the people fall, the horses are bullet proof. In fact the horses seem unimpressed by the fire.
A cavalry Mahdi horde attacks across the desert and we see the shot alternating between cavalry and infantry who arrive at the same time by the English forces.
We see in the background a Gatling gun twice, it is never used. But Gatling guns where never used by the English. English guns are limbered, the next scene unlimbered. The guns hold fire until the position is about to be overrun by the Mahdi. Rifle fire is used at the latest moment? English troops march in close order? Nope that is not normal.
The English cavalry is called tirailleurs? Tirailleurs are light infantry not cavalry. The cavalry chases the retreating Mahdi horde, then is ambushed by Mahdi infantry buried in the ground the Mahdi horde just moved over twice. Come on. English cavalry(now on camels?) movie into a village. They ride without guards. Of course such ineptitude must be punished with an ambush.
The entire movie has a feeling of careless sloppyness. Kapur seems to be in a hurry to get to the desert and it's fine scenery and the story is second to those nice views. Important moments are hardly played out, unimportant events are dragged out because they seem to offering nice pictures. This movie has a remarkable sloppy feel which is a shame really. A six for effort.
Whatever the merits of the script or a longer version of the film, by
the time they pared it down to the theatrical version the damage to the
story had been done. If you're looking for a movie with pretty actors
and pretty cinematography, "The Four Feathers" could be the film for
you. But if you're looking for a cohesive plot and compelling
characters, well, if they were present they've been left on the cutting
Not that the cast is to blame; the actors do a fine job in the time that's been left to them.
What remains certainly has an epic feel, as we wait and wait for the characters to reveal their core motivations. (...then he decided to do this... then he decided it would be better to do that... then she decided hey, I guess I may as well do the other...)
While promotional materials tend to make it seem like the protagonist has a plan all along, as the film plays out it appears more like a random quest for redemption. Which theoretically could make for an adequate story... if only the resolution were not so contrived.
The makers would have been well advised to see Korda's 1939 version starring John Clements, or Anthony Steel's Storm Over the Nile.This latest effort should never have been made! It would be totally unrecognisable except for the use of the feathers. Political correctness added a new hero when there was only room for one. Dated slow motion action scenes made things worse. Men hiding in the sand was borrowed from 1960,s spaghetti westerns - I could go on but I won't. The movie doesn't hold a candle to the 1939 version in any shape or form. The director should go back to being an accountant!
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