Told and retold umpteen times, AEW Mason's novel The Four Feathers is such a sound adventure yarn that even the least prestigious adaptation - a 1977 TVmovie starring Robert Powell - manages to excite.
The accepted classic is Zoltan Korda's 1939 version, but its stiff-upper-lip performances and stilted pacing make it ripe for reinvention. And who better for the job than Shekhar Elizabeth Kapur, an Indian director adept at cocking a snook at traditionalist takes on British history?
Fortunately, his approach is more clear-eyed than caustic, merely suggesting soldierly uncertainty over repressive, country-crushing actions rather than ladling on the liberal revisionism. Unfortunately, however, Kapur's original four-hour cut has been snipped to just over two - and bears the mucky fingerprints of studio cack-handedness all over it.
Heath Ledger suffers heroically as an officer accused of cowardice when he bottles a looming battle, his army pals sending him four white feathers to symbolise their disgust. Cue an incognito trip to Sudan to rescue his best friends and embrace redemption.
Delayed by production problems and recent world events, this muddled, incoherent picture isn't worth the wait, featuring little to write home about beyond one great battle scene and some striking photography by Scorsese/ Stone regular Robert Richardson. If you want an epic, Empire-era celebration of self-sacrifice and bravery, then track down the glorious Gunga Din. If it's a real insight into imperialism you're after, turn on the news.
Watch the trailer