Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.
USA/United Kingdom, 2002. , Miramax, Jaffilms, Belhaven Limited, Blinding Edge Pictures, Dune Films, Marty Katz Productions. Screenplay by Michael Schiffer, Hossein Amini, based on the novel by A.E.W. Mason. Cinematography by Robert Richardson. Produced by Paul Feldsher, Stanley R. Jaffe, Marty Katz, Robert Jaffe. Music by James Horner. Production Design by Allan Cameron. Costume Design by Ruth Myers. Film Editing by Steven Rosenblum. Toronto International Film Festival 2002.
Film versions of this popular story are reaching countless numbers, but at least it still feels fresh after so many years. Heath Ledger plays the conscientious 19th-century officer of Her Majesty’s army who quits his commission when his platoon is to be sent to fight in the Sudan. Three of his comrades send him the white feather of cowardice in response to his politically objectionable move, while his best friend (Wes Bentley) stands by him even though he himself chooses to join the fight. The fourth feather comes from Ledger’s loving fiancee (a miscast but hard working Kate Hudson), and it turns out to be the last straw for him, prompting him to take off for the North African desert and look for his friends. Travelling alone is difficult, and survival demands he disguise himself as an Arab after he befriends a fierce warrior (Djimon Hounsou) who makes it his task to protect this wayward Brit. Director Shekhar Kapur (Elizabeth) has intelligently adapted an anti-pacifist story and inverted it into a moral lesson about British Imperialism and its habit of sticking its violent nose where it doesn’t belong. He is backed up by his visual prowess, exemplified by elegant depictions of Victorian England (even though the behaviour and attitudes of the characters are awkwardly modern) and stunning shots of the barren deserts of the so-called dark continent. Ledger is excellent in the lead, and I promise that even though this grand adventure’s plot loses its footing from time to time, you will be thoroughly satisfied by the (incorrectly) optimistic ending.