The Four Feathers

The Four Feathers Information

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 dramatisations 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 Faversham (Heath Ledger), a young British officer, 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 becomes nervous 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.

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 then disguises himself as an Arab. Harry and Abou Fatma follow a group of army workers he believes to be Mahdi spies, following them takes them to the garrison of Abu-Klea (near Khartoum), which they realise on entry has been overrun. However, before they can leave the gates are closed. Harry is taken roughly aside, as this happens 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 has 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 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. Faversham's comrades are worried, but ultimately Abou Fatma's warnings are disregarded, and he is whipped.

Because of their disregard of the 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 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 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 Faversham, 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 (including Harry's friend Edward Castleton (Kris Marshall), who gave him one of the feathers). In the end the order is given for retreat.

Jack was found and protected by Harry during the battle. Jack's rifle had misfired and blinded him. Harry finds letters of tenderness from Ethne but puts aside his feelings and cares for Jack without telling him who he is. Not knowing who his rescuer was, Jack then returns home. He asks Ethne to marry him, but she does not give him an answer discussing the matter with Harry's father. Tom tells Jack that Harry had come to visit him in the Sudan to tell him he had been the officer that sent Abou, and that Harry had expressed bitter anger and sorrow that his friends did not listen to the warning. Harry asked for money and explained that he believes Trench lives on in the notorious Mahdi prison of Omdurman, and Harry is determined to find him and rescue him. Abou advises him not to go, but Harry goes anyway. Later Abou rescues Harry and his miraculously still alive comrade, Trench, by giving them 'poison' that really just fakes the symptoms of death. However, a guard is suspicious of the duo's death and follows them along with three other guards. All four guards are killed by Harry and Abou and then the two part ways: Abou back to the desert and Harry and Trench back to Britain. Harry is acknowledged by his father and Ethne asks for her feather back; however she is now engaged to Jack. Jack comes to find out Harry rescued him as Jack touches his face as he did in the desert and releases Ethne from their engagement. After a ceremony of Remembrance, Harry and Ethne hold hands and are engaged once more.



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.

See also

  • The Four Feathers - 1939
  • Storm Over the Nile - 1955
  • Khartoum, a 1966 film dealing with the events leading up to General Gordon's death
  • Highclere Castle

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