The Four Feathers: Criterion Collection
October 18, 2011
Based on A.E.W. Mason’s 1902 best-selling novel of the same name, The Four Feathers was adapted into three different films before producer Alexander Korda gave it a go in 1939. In addition, it was filmed three more times afterwards but many consider Korda’s to be the definitive version. It was set during the British campaign in the Sudan when the English retook Khartoum from 1896-98.
In 1885, the British garrison in Khartoum is overrun by African followers of Islam with General Gordon being killed as a result. The film opens with a conversation about cowardice as several retired British army veterans swap war stories about the punishment for cowardice during wartime. A young, impressionable boy named Harry Faversham listens to these stories with wide-eyed fear and amazement. Ten years later, he (Clements) is a soldier in the British army and about to be deployed to the Sudan. His father has recently died and he’s engaged to marry the beautiful Ethne Burroughs (Duprez), much to the chagrin of Captain John Durrance (Richardson).
However, Harry never wanted to be a soldier and only enlisted to please his father. So, he resigns his post before shipping out. He has a change of heart when his friends each send him a feather to remind him of their bond and sense of duty to their country. So, he goes incognito to Khartoum and seeks out his regiment in an effort to redeem himself.
Korda does an incredible job of capturing the impressive expansive vistas of the Sudan and its harsh, unforgiving conditions. He does an astounding job with the film’s epic battle scenes whose sheer scale and scope rival only that of Lawrence of Arabia (1962). Korda also manages to simultaneously celebrate British sense of duty and the famous stiff upper lip while also depicting the arrogance of their imperialistic ways. The Four Feathers and its story feel rather dated by contemporary standards with views and attitudes that seem quite antiquated now. It’s a reminder of a time when England was one of the world’s dominant super powers in addition to being a rousing epic adventure of one man’s journey to redemption.
There is an audio commentary by British film historian by Charles Drazin. He starts things off by giving a run down of the prior adaptations and proceeds to make a case for Korda’s being the definitive version. Drazin provides a brief historical backstory to the events depicted in the film. He also gives us a biographical sketch of the prolific Korda family who were deeply immersed in cinema. He does a good job of analyzing the film’s impressive style and its themes while also examining how it diverges from the novel.
Also includes is an interview with David Korda, son of director Zoltan. He talks about his father’s upbringing and about his relationship with his filmmaking brothers as well as how they got into the business.
“A Day at Denham” is a 1939 promotional film that takes us on a tour of London Film Productions’ studios at Denham. Included is rare, behind-the-scenes footage of Zoltan Korda working on The Four Feathers.
Finally, there is a theatrical trailer.