Seeing things through slash goggles
If Kapur didn't have form from The Golden Age
- say it together children,'My bitches wear my collars'- I might have chosen to ignore the intense slashiness of many of the relationships in The Four Feathers
. And it is not just because Heath Ledger, much missed, went on to be in some gay film or other. It is just that there is a weird perversity to the whole enterprise which slashiness is only part of.
There is the whole complicated attitude to imperialism - Kapur is an Indian and yet this is a film which acknowledges British cruelty and atrocity and military stupidity and arrogance, but is still quite keen on the idea that the British are right and the Mahdi and his army are wrong. I missed the opening so I am not entirely clear whether Harry's throwing up of his commission was just the fear that causes his friends and fiancee to give him the white feathers of the title, or some broader critique - his subsequent behaviour, wandering round the Sudan in disguise saving them, is just a little bit on the passive aggressive side. As is theirs to him at various points - blinded Jack has not let the woman they both love know Harry is alive, but gives her up to him when he realizes that Harry saved his life as opposed to merely trying to save the regiment, and failing.
None of this feels like generosity - it is competition in a new arena.
And then there is Abou, the African Muslim who helps Harry because he likes him and in the face of all reason. Abou is mistrusted and tortured and whipped by Harry's friends when he tries to warn them of an ambush he and Harry have spotted - and he still helps him save them later. (Significantly the one who argued that they were doing the wrong thing, and should trust Abou, is killed in the battle, and is the one they fail to save.)
If there were any doubt that Abou and Harry's mutual regard has a certain erotic quality, it is removed by the way that, when he proposes to Eithne at the end, Harry echoes Abou's words to him ' God put you in my way' and the film then cuts to Abou riding through the desert looking wistfully manly.
Such a very odd film - and it has Adam Carter from Spooks
and the moderately irritating Kris Marshall in it. A career damager, by reputation, and yet not especially bad, actually.