A classic novel of bravery, loyalty and romance comes to the screen again in an epic adaptation directed by Indian-born filmmaker Shekhar Kapur. Alan Silverman has a look at The Four Feathers.
In the Victorian era, service in the Royal Army was the height of distinction for a young British officer; but Harry Faversham shocks his friends and comrades-in-arms when he resigns his commission rather than go to fight in North Africa.
Branded a coward by his closest friends and even his beloved fiancé, Harry receives the ultimate insult: white feathers, symbols of cowardice, sent by each of them. Partly to redeem his honor, but mostly out of loyalty to his friends, he sets off alone for The Sudan.
This is the fifth film adaptation of The Four Feathers. A century after the novel by A.E.W. Mason was first published, director Shekhar Kapur says its many themes still have resonance.
"This whole concept of the conflict between the East and the West was huge fore me," he says. " I started this film thinking I'm going for anti-colonization. My interpretation is very specific: the British had no right to be there and I wanted to hit upon that. They had no right. Nobody has a right to go into somebody else's country, conquer it and rule people. The film is about an internal journey of self-discovery from naivete to wisdom. The whole epic scale is a representation of that internal battle."
Heath Ledger stars as Harry and the Australian-born actor agrees that, despite their nineteenth Century manners, The Four Feathers characters face issues contemporary audiences can understand.
"Human emotions and human qualities are timeless, I feel, and that's the one aspect that will always stay contemporary," says Ledger. "All I could bring to it was contemporary emotions and a contemporary point of view to the story because that's who I am. It's just set in the backdrop of that time and era."
But Kate Hudson, who co-stars as Ethne, Harry's fiancé, admits understanding her character's attitude was a challenge.
"Struggling with why she makes the decisions she makes and not necessarily being able to relate to it in real life, but having to believe it and portray it honestly," she explains. "It's important to people of that stature to hold their dignity (meaning their status) and their reputation. When a man that you marry is somebody you think will live up to your father's expectations and your lineage and tradition doesn't want to fight for his country: in that day and age that was a big 'no-no.'"
Christian Englishman Harry finds an unlikely ally in his desert quest: a black African Muslim named Abou. The arrogant British colonials, n-o-t attempting to understand the culture, deride him as a "noble savage; but Benin-born actor Djimon Honsou, who plays Abou, believes today's audiences see beyond that stereotype.
"I never saw my character as a noble savage, " he says. "I saw him as Heath Ledger's character's Guardian Angel. Who are we to define what Guardian Angels do for us? God knows what they're doing for you to keep you going on a daily basis. The only thing that I tapped into to play that character was to try to get away from any limitations that family members, friends and society can put on you... and limitations you can put on yourself as well."
The Four Feathers also features Wes Bentley as Harry's best friend and romantic rival Jack. The stunning desert battle scenes were shot on location in Morocco.