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MOVIE REVIEW:The Four Feathers
I have often taken part in studying Victorian history (partly due to my
interest in steam trains)and have recently moved on to Imperial history
(which previously only extended to the railways laid in India and
Africa) and I have learned a lot. Therefore this film has been of a lot
of interest to me.
The premise is a solid one. Heath Ledger plays Harry Faversham a
British army officer in the late Victorian period of the 1880s-1890s.
Peacetime soldiering is uneventful, with marriage to his fiancé
imminent, but when a violent clash occurs between Islamic fighters in
Sudan and the British Army, Faversham seems uneager to go to war unlike
his friends, and returns o be with his fiancé. Unfortunately, all of
them take a dim view of these actions, and they deliver him four white
feathers as symbols of his perceived cowardice.
Desperately keen to prove them all wrong, Faversham heads out to the
Sudan to return the feathers back to his friends as the war spirals
into disaster. And this is where things start to go wrong in the story.
The characters are split up by the results of the battle, and Harry's
redemption seems a little lacking in climax.
This seems odd, as the previously solid structure of the film seems to
break apart in the battle with the British defeat (when in reality this
was actuall a victory, and could've kept the story intact had it been
kept this way).
All the character journeys seem to confusingly switch from one to the
other, including a brief love triangle that doesn't seem to work in its
execution. Surprisingly, there are few moments in this film of the
British as brutal monsters, the closest we get is a bit with Djimon
Honsou's character being whipped for an unclear charge, but if the
director Khapur wished to explore this theme he hasn't made it clear
enough to the audience. In general, the final part of the film is
touching in its performance by the generally good main cast and
sympathy for the main characters, but unfortunately comes across as too
insubstantial to be worth paying for.
There's a lot of stunning imagery in this pic, but the director's aim
here is to educate the public on the political realities of empire
building; foreign and domestic. The director is not sympathetic to the
British in any way, and it shows in this film.
We have some superb cinematography for an historic epic focusing on
four disparate comrades of "Her Majesties Army". But note, we don't
come to sympathize with any of them. We don't come to care for any of
them. We don't get attached to a single protagonist. One wonders why
It's because we're truly looking at a historical drama that asks us to
follow the characters from A to B to C, but only from the vantage of a
distant viewer, and as audience members engaged in the emotional
outcome of the drama, we're left high and dry in this regard. This is a
very objectifying work. We see the harsh realities of colonial warfare,
but there's no sense of wanting or needing some or any of the
characters to live. We're almost looking at an anti-British film.
Something that comes near to being pro-Islam, but is more anti-colonial
in its stance than a prostelizatizn of some other political thought.
But, does that make it a bad film? No, not really. I did like watching
it for the visuals, but I did feel somewhat empty. On my first viewing
I thought and wondered how anyone could not like this picture, because
I thought there was a heartfelt attempt to show the plight of everyone.
And that's the irony of it all. Because the film is so thorough in its
depiction of hardship, you never get a sense of where to position your
own emotional investment as per my previous paragraph.
As a stand alone film I think it's okay, but nothing to write home
about in terms of being a fully realized drama. The acting is is
actually quite good, though overstated at times. The late Heath Ledger
tries to infuse the sublime in his thesping as he takes on the dual
persona of a young officer who's scared to go to war, but later tears
down his cowardice after his trials in the Sudan.
Something that might've helped this film would have been for the
characters to have realized who and where they were; i.e. what they
were doing (to channel a little Yoda here). Yet again, all we see is
what one might call the emotional plot. The actions and the reactions
of the characters. We never truly get to look into their hearts.
Mores the pity.
Rent it for a night's viewing. The actual story is pretty decent, and
worth seeing because of some very impressive cinematography. But, don't
be surprised if you feel a little empty at the end of it.
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