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The Four Feathers (2002 film): Wikis


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The Four Feathers
Directed by Shekhar Kapur
Produced by Stanley R. Jaffe
Marty Katz
Paul Feldsher
Written by A.E.W. Mason
Michael Shiffer
Hossein Amini
Starring Heath Ledger
Wes Bentley
Djimon Hounsou
Kate Hudson
Music by James Horner
Cinematography Robert Richardson
Editing by Steven Rosenblum
Distributed by Paramount Pictures (USA)
Miramax Films (non-USA)
Release date(s) September 20, 2002
Running time 131 minutes
Country United States
Language English

The Four Feathers is a 2002 American drama film directed by Shekhar Kapur, starring Heath Ledger, Wes Bentley, Djimon Hounsou and Kate Hudson. Set during the British army's Gordon Relief Expedition (late 1884 to early 1885) in Sudan, it tells the story of a young man accused of cowardice.

This film, with altered plot events, is the latest in a long line of cinematic dramatizations of the original 1902 novel The Four Feathers by A.E.W. Mason. Other versions of the story have been set in the 1890s, with different battle events.



Harry Feversham (Heath Ledger), a young British officer of the Royal Cumbrians infantry regiment and the son of a stern British general, celebrates his recent engagement to the beautiful young Ethne (Kate Hudson) in a lavish ball with his fellow officers and his father in attendance. When the regimental Colonel announces that the regiment is being dispatched to Egyptian-ruled Sudan to rescue the British General Charles "Chinese" Gordon (who was being besieged in Khartoum by Islamic rebels of The Mahdi), young Feversham becomes nervous and resigns his commission. The night before his resignation he asks Jack Durrance, "What does a godforsaken desert, in the middle of nowhere, have to do with Her Majesty the queen?" Although he claims to have quit the army in order to stay in England with new fiancée because he would never "go to war for anyone or anything", he is nonetheless censured by three fellow officers (except for Feversham's closest friend and comrade Jack Durrance) for cowardice as signified by the delivery to him of three white feathers. He also loses the support of his fiancée Ethne, who presents him with the fourth feather. His father, General Feversham (Tim Pigott-Smith) publicly disavows him.

With his former comrades already en route to the conflict, the young Feversham questions his own true motives, and resolves to redeem himself through combat in Sudan. Disguised as an Arab labourer, he pays a French slave trader to take him deep into the Sudanese desert. Feversham is left alone in the vast sands when the slave trader is killed by his own Sudanese slaves. Eventually a lone black Sudanese warrior named Abou Fatma (Djimon Hounsou), who is against the Mahdists' rebellion, locates the abandoned Feversham who had fallen unconscious from heat exhaustion. With the help of this unexpected guide, Feversham locates his old regiment but maintains an observing distance from his former comrades. One morning while the regiment is marching, Feversham notices a group of Sudanese labourers deserting, and follows them, believing they are spies of the Mahdi. Feversham and Abou reach a fortress that had been recently captured by the Mahdi's army, and discover that the garrison has been completely massacred. In fact, the British regiment is en route to the fort, not knowing it has been seized. While he is taken by a Sudanese soldier and ordered to wear a uniform taken off one of the British dead, Abou hurries back to Feversham's comrades to warn of an upcoming attack. While the regiment has stopped its march to bury a group of British dead killed by the Mahdi, Abou is captured by Egyptian soldiers, believing he is an enemy scout and he is brought before the British officers (Feversham's friends). Abou tells the British that he had been sent by a British officer, referring to Feversham, in order to warn them of the Mahdi's attack. He also points out that Muslims always bury their dead and that of the enemy, but that these bodies have been left to keep the British occupied. Feversham's comrades are worried, but ultimately Abou Fatma's warnings are disregarded, and he is whipped.

In disregard of the Abou's warnings, the British and Egyptian troops are not prepared for battle. The Mahdi rebels attack with spearmen, riflemen and cavalry, while the British forces form a square. Firing volley after volley, the British repel the initial Mahdi assault just as they spot British cavalry reinforcements in their distinguishable red uniforms. A force of skirmishers is sent to pursue the retreating Sudanese, but they are ambushed by Mahdi rebels hiding beneath the sand, and the skirmishers are forced to fight on foot. Soon the British discover that the cavalry they perceived were their own reinforcements are actually Sudanese disguised in British uniforms. Among them is Feversham, who was mistakenly thought to be a Sudanese. The British square hastily reorganises and fires a few volleys, in the process killing several skirmishers who have not yet returned to the square. The Sudanese cavalry charges into the square, the commanding officer is killed, and the British sound the retreat. Jack, who was blinded in battle by a misfire from his rifle, is taken to safety by Feversham with Abou's help. When Jack awakes from his unconsciousness, Feversham realises he is blind, but he does not reveal his identity and does not speak to him. He tries to comfort Jack, who touches his face. He takes Jack to the retreating British regiment, then leaves to search for Colonel Trench, his friend who was captured in battle. Feversham goes to the prison-fortress at Omm Durman and allows himself to be taken in. He locates his comrade inside the prison amidst a sea of other prisoners and with the help of Abou Fatma, escapes from the rebels.

At last Feversham returns to England, where his courageous exploits in Sudan puts him back in the good graces of his comrades, his fiancée and his father.



This 2002 film by Shekhar Kapur differs from the 1939 film by Zoltan Korda and the original 1902 novel by A.E.W. Mason in historical time setting. Kapur's film takes place in 1884/1885 when British soldiers were sent to Sudan to rescue Charles "Chinese" Gordon who was being besieged by the Mahdists in Khartoum. Korda's film is set in 1898 when British soldiers were sent to Sudan to avenge Charles "Chinese" Gordon who had been killed by the Mahdist rebels in Khartoum about fourteen years prior. Mason's novel is set over a six year period, from Sir Garnet Wolseley's 1882 expedition to Egypt to suppress the rising of Urabi Pasha until after the 1884/1885 expedition to free rescue Gordon. Kapur's film also comprises some historical inaccuracies (regarding the 1884/1885 expedition) to suit its message : the battle of Abu Klea, depicted in the film as a severe defeat of the British forces in Sudan was actually a victory, the desert column continued to push towards Khartoum only to arrive two days after its fall and Gordon's death. The red uniforms worn by the British soldiers in the film are also an inaccuracy since the British forces in Sudan rarely used them in battle.

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