The Four Feathers (2002 film)

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The Four Feathers
The Four Feathers 2002 movie.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Shekhar Kapur
Produced by Paul Feldsher
Robert Jaffe
Stanley R. Jaffe
Marty Katz
Screenplay by Mark Pellington
Bruce Joel Rubin
Greg Brooker
Michael Schiffer
Risa Bramon Garcia
Hossein Amini
Based on The Four Feathers
1902 novel 
by A. E. W. Mason
Starring Heath Ledger
Wes Bentley
Djimon Hounsou
Kate Hudson
Music by James Horner
Cinematography Robert Richardson
Edited by Andrew Mondshein
Conrad Buff
David Brenner
Jim Miller
Steven Rosenblum
Distributed by Paramount Pictures (US)
Miramax Films (Int.)
Release dates
  • 20 September 2002 (2002-09-20)
Running time
130 minutes
125 minutes (TIFF)
Country United States
United Kingdom
Language English
Budget $35 million[1]
Box office $29,882,645

The Four Feathers is a 2002 action 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 adaptations of the 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 Faversham (Heath Ledger), a young British officer completing his training, celebrates his 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 (James Cosmo) announces that the regiment is being dispatched to Egyptian-ruled Sudan to rescue the British General Charles "Chinese" Gordon (who is being besieged in Khartoum by Islamic rebels of the Mahdi), young Faversham has serious ethical reservations about the war, and resigns his commission. Shocked by his son's actions, Harry's father (Tim Pigott-Smith) disowns him. Perceiving his resignation as cowardice, three of his friends and his fiancée each give him a white feather, the symbol of cowardice. Ethne breaks off their engagement.

Tormented, isolated and alone in London, Harry learns that his best friend Jack (Wes Bentley) and his former regiment have come under brutal attack by rebels. Undertaking the perilous journey into the Sudan alone, he strikes up an alliance with Abou Fatma (Djimon Hounsou), a wise mercenary warrior. Harry disguises himself as an Arab. Harry and Abou Fatma follow a group of army workers he believes to be Mahdi spies, and reach the garrison of Abu-Klea (near Khartoum), which they realise on entry has been overrun. Before they can leave, the gates are closed. Harry is taken roughly aside; he begs Abou Fatma to warn his friends that their destination is under siege and an attack is likely. Instead of being discovered, Harry is given a red British army jacket.

Meanwhile the regiment stopped its march to bury a group of British dead killed by the Mahdi. Abou Fatma is captured by Egyptian soldiers; believing he is an enemy scout, they bring him before the British officers (Faversham's friends). He tells the British that he has been sent by a British officer, referring to Faversham, in order to warn them of the Mahdi's attack. He says that Muslims always bury their dead and that of the enemy, but that these bodies have been left to keep the British occupied. Faversham's comrades are worried, but ultimately they disregard Abou Fatma's warnings and he is flogged as a suspected spy.

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 defensive square. Firing volley after volley, the British repel the initial Mahdi assault just as they spot British cavalry reinforcements in their distinctive red uniforms. A force of skirmishers is sent to pursue the retreating Sudanese, but they are ambushed by Mahdi rebels and forced to fight on foot. Soon the British discover that the cavalry whom they thought were reinforcements are Sudanese disguised in British uniforms. Among them is Faversham. The British square hastily reorganises and fires a few volleys, in the process killing several skirmishers who have not yet returned to the square (including Harry's friend Edward Castleton (Kris Marshall), who had given him a feather.) Jack attempts to rescue Castleton in the process but is blinded when his rifle misfires. The British then issue an order for retreat.

Harry found Jack during the battle and protected him after he was blinded. Harry finds tender letters from Ethne to Jack, but nonetheless cares for his friend without identifying himself. Never knowing his rescuer, Jack is transported to England. He asks Ethne to marry him, but she does not answer. First she discusses it with Harry's father.

Tom, another officer tells Jack that Harry had visited him in the Sudan and told him he had sent Abou to warn the British, and was bitter that his friends had not heeded him. Harry asked Tom for money and explained that he believes Trench lives on in the notorious Mahdi prison of Omdurman, saying he believed Trench was still being held in the Mahdi prison, and he was determined to rescue him. Abou advised Harry against this venture, but he goes anyway.

Later Abou rescues Harry and Trench by giving them a 'poison' to fake their deaths. A suspicious guard follows the removal of the bodies, along with three other guards. Harry and Abou kill the four. Abou returns to the desert, and Harry escorts Trench back to Britain. Harry is acknowledged by his father and Ethne reclaims her feather, as Harry has so proved his bravery. She has become engaged to Jack.

Jack learns that Harry was his rescuer when he happens to touch his face; he releases Ethne from their engagement. After a ceremony of remembrance, Harry and Ethne hold hands and are engaged again.



The film opened in North American cinemas on 30 September 2002 and grossed $6,857,879 in its opening weekend, making number 5 at the US box office. The Four Feathers ended up making $29.8 million worldwide, failing to bring back its $35 million budget.[2]

In 2003, it was issued as a Special Collector's edition on DVD. ISBN 0-792-18961-2


The film received mixed reviews by critics and currently holds a 41% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 150 reviews.

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