Retro Review: Four Feathers

Written: October 5, 2002

A choppy, sliced and diced version of the classic British novel “The Four Feathers” lands on the big screen with a young star-bound cast.

Based on the infamous British novel, “Four Feathers” has flown on to the big-screen in a variety of forms over the years. Hollywood revisits the epic struggle of Harry Faversham (Heath Ledger), who was given four white feathers after he left his post in the British militia.

A white feather is a symbol of cowardice and the event destroyed Harry. Adding salt to his wound, the fourth feather happened to be from his betrothed, Ethne (Kate Hudson), who he left the army to marry.

Struck with guilt and a passion to prove he can be a worthy soldier, Harry chases after his regiment is determined to make sure everyone of his militia brothers returns safely to England.

If you have seen any of the other versions of this novel on film or read the novel itself, then this condensed version of the epic story will highly disappoint you. For a new audience looking at this for the first time it may ring differently.

My biggest problems with this film were that the story was not told linearly and there some obviously bad cuts in the film that made it feel like an amateur spliced it together. You have scenes that abruptly end in the desert then all of a sudden you are in England looking at moody Kate Hudson. Hudson is so moody and such an adrenaline killer that she spoils a lot of the film. Every time the film goes back to England we are met by a dreary world with pompous nobles and pale as a ghost Kate. In some of the scenes I wasn’t sure if she was sad or seasick. I found it hard to understand why Harry would want her or a life back there.

The bad editing also made me wonder if this film had an original cut of three hours to three-and-a-half hours. If that is the case then I hope we see a director’s cut which restores the flow of the film. That conclusion really help me understand why the film has these obvious flaws.

I continue to enjoy Heath Ledger as a leading man. He has a strong presence and I liked how he evolved his character even if the movie as a whole didn’t support him. As I stated above I really didn’t like Hudson. I liked the effort of Wes Bentley, who plays Heath’s best friend in the film. I never for a moment believed that Heath and Kate were in love and that he really wanted to get back to her.

In today’s world it is hard for us to understand the concept of honor, country and glory.

Unless you are in the military, society’s dimensions of the “individual” make these concepts hard to understand. Most of us know what a coward is but it probably isn’t fully understood that being dubbed a coward back then was the equivalent of being banished. I could relate to Harry’s struggle with leaving the army. The thought of dodging bullets for a cause you don’t believe in would make me run to. It also makes you ask the question what would it take for you to die for “god and country”?

I loved the Sudanese scenes in this film because it reminded me a lot of the old epics starring Charlton Heston or Richard Chamberlain that I used to watch when I was a kid. Aside from those scenes and the editing I had a hard time becoming immersed in the “Four Feathers”.

(3 out of 5)

So Says the Soothsayer.

2 thoughts on “Retro Review: Four Feathers

  1. This is my favorite version of A.E.W. Mason’s novel. It not only examines the meaning of cowardice per se, it also questions the role of European imperialism in non-Western countries. I have a deep suspicion that many critics who bash this movie, dislike it for its “political correctness”. Which tells me a lot about the Western mentality.

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