The Four Feathers is a 1978 British television film adaptation of the classic 1902 novel The Four Feathers by novelist A.E.W. Mason.
Directed by Don Sharp, this version starred Beau Bridges, Robert Powell, Simon Ward and Jane Seymour, and was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award. It follows the novel almost exactly, and response to the film was very positive.
Lieutenant Harry Faversham (Beau Bridges) is the latest scion of a prominent military family. A deeply sensitive boy, he is much traumatised by the early death of his kind-hearted mother. Though he never wants to be a soldier, he feels obliged to join the army. Though no coward (as he will later show), he has no interest in an army career. Having met and become engaged to Ethne, he decides to resign his commission. The fact that war in the Sudan is coming is irrelevant to this decision. During their engagement ball on the final day of his army career, Faversham receives telegram’s summoning him and three of his brother officers (Durrance, Willoughby and Trench) back to the regiment prior to being sent to the Sudan. As determined as ever to leave the army, Faversham burns the telegram’s so that he can pretend not to have been summoned back to the regiment before his commission expires. Willoughby sees him burning papers and notices that he is embarrassed to have been taken by surprise in doing so. On later realising that Faversham was burning the telegram’s from the army, Willoughby assumes that Faversham has done so because he is afraid of going to the Sudan. Durrance, Willoughby and Trench then send Faversham three white feathers, betokening cowardice, and turn their backs on him. When Faversham tries to explain to Ethne what has happened, she also reaches the same mistaken conclusion and gives him a fourth white feather. Following his regiment’s deployment, Faversham realises he has made a grave mistake and, having toyed with suicide, finally resolves to redeem his honour.
Disguising himself as an Arab, Faversham makes his way to the Sudan determined to perform three acts of courage that will persuade each of his former comrades to take back their white feathers. He learns of an impending attack on the regiment, and tries to make it in time to save them. During the battle, his closest friend Captain Jack Durrance (Powell) becomes engaged in close combat, during which he is blinded when a black-powder rifle goes off next to his face. Faversham attacks the Arabs who surround Durrance, and rescues him as he staggers blindly. In the end, Faversham is able to help his regiment, and redeem his honour.
- Beau Bridges as Harry Faversham.
- Robert Powell as Jack Durrance.
- Simon Ward as William Trench.
- Jane Seymour as Ethne Eustace.
- Harry Andrews as General Faversham.
- Richard Johnson as Abou Fatma.
- David Robb as Thomas Willoughby.
- Richard Beale as Wembol (valet).
- Robin Bailey as Colonel Eustace.
- John Hallam as Sergeant Major.
- Julian Barnes as Lieutenant Bradley.
- Mary Maude as Mrs. Faversham.
- Frank Gatliff as Old Major.
- Robert Flemyng as Old Colonel.
- Robert James as John (the butler).
The film was produced by Norman Rosemont, who specialised in making adaptations of classic tales for television. He had recently made The Man in the Iron Mask, Captains Courageous and The Count of Monte Cristo. The films would be made for over $1 million which was more than US networks would pay for them, but they could be released theatrically overseas. “The great classic authors wrote good stories with strong plots about people you could care for”, said Rosemont. “And filming them at length – usually three hours – you can get most of the plot in.”
The Four Feathers was, like Captains Courageous, a Bell special for the ABC (i.e. it was sponsored by Bell Systems).
Norman Rosemont normally filmed works in the public domain but he had to pay London Films $150,000 for the rights to Four Feathers.
Part of the money was provided by Trident Films, an off-shot of Trident Television, a Leeds-based regional television group.
Director Don Sharp was known for his action films.
The casting of Powell and Bridges was announced in July 1977. Bridges had a dialect coach, Robert Easton, to help him with the accent.
Filming started in August 1977 and took place in England and Spain. The Duke of Wellington’s estate was used for English scenes. The desert sequences were shot in Almería, Spain over three weeks. During the Spanish part of filming, Powell referred to occasions when the unit was affected by sandstorms, saying, “Everyone wore surgical masks and goggles and was covered from head to foot, except the bloody actors”.
Four Feathers Films
You can find a full index and overview of The Four Feathers Films here.
Production & Filming Details
- Director(s): Don Sharp.
- Producer(s): Robert D. Cardona, Norman Rosemont, and Bruce Sharman.
- Writer(s): Gerald Di Pego.
- Music: Allyn Ferguson.
- Cinematography: John Coquillon.
- Editor(s): Eric Boyd-Perkins.
- Production: Norman Rosemont Productions and Trident Films.
- Distributor(s): NBC.
- Release Date: 01 January 1978 (US TV) and February 1978 (UK cinemas).
- Running Time: 100 minutes.
- Rating: 15.
- Country: US.
- Language: English.