Behind the scenes of ''The Four Feathers''
Shekhar Kapur is the kind of guy who isn’t afraid to admit when he’s afraid. It’s early September and the Indian director seems at peace confessing his anxiety over ”The Four Feathers,” his follow-up to 1998’s multiple-Oscar nominee ”Elizabeth.” ”I hate this film,” says Kapur, 57, ”every cut, every aspect of storytelling.” Maybe he’s just too close to his adaptation of the 1901 A.E.W. Mason novel, starring Heath Ledger, Wes Bentley, and Kate Hudson. ”Everything is an illusion, anyway,” he says. ”But what’s the illusion? That people love your film, or the fear that they hated it?” He sighs. ”The Eastern part of me says, ‘Accept your destiny.’ But there’s another part of me that is very much Harry Feversham.”
For, you see, Harry Feversham, the hero of ”The Four Feathers,” is a coward. A soldier in the British army circa 1875, Feversham (Ledger) quits when his regiment is ordered to North Africa to safeguard England’s imperial interests after an uprising by Sudanese rebels. When shame gets the best of him, he travels to the desert and goes undercover to aid the British.
”The Four Feathers” fluttered Kapur’s way in 1999 via producer and former Paramount chairman Stanley Jaffe. While telling an epic tale about one man’s journey to self-discovery galvanized Kapur, so did the chance to bring out the politics — an opportunity he recognized after reading the novel and viewing a few of the six previous adaptations. ”I was angered by them because of where I come from,” says Kapur, whose native India was under British rule from 1858 to 1947. ”They just did not question colonization.” Though ”The Four Feathers” was filmed before the Sept. 11 attacks, Kapur doesn’t mind comparisons to current events. ”If you look at the state of the world today,” he says, ”you can trace it back to one cause: colonization.”
Alas, not everyone was as keen as Kapur on infusing ”The Four Feathers” with subtextual agitprop; during preproduction, Jaffe quit. ”It became clear that there were certain aspects of the script that we saw differently,” Jaffe says. ”We felt very happy to leave it in the hands of Shekhar so he could make the picture he saw, because otherwise we’d wind up somewhere in the middle and nobody would be happy.” Hudson, on the other hand, had no reservations: ”It’s so rare that you get an opportunity to sit in a movie theater for two and a half hours, and God forbid you have to come out thinking.”