The latest adaptation of the AEW Mason tale is grand epic piece designed and directed purely in the mould that once used to win films Oscars. However Director Shekar Kapur's last period piece, the utterly brilliant and rich cinematic experience "Elizabeth", was a far deeper and more rewarding tale than this surprisingly flat take on the turn of the century tale.
One wonders why a film with such high quality production values, a solid young cast, and such timeless themes can prove somewhat of a bore. Its certainly not the settings with the massive battle scenes in the African desert coming out gloriously on film and handled with Kapur's deft touch and a rousing score. Editing seems to be a big problem though as betrayals and character changes happen with little to no explanation.
Ledger continues to show why everyone has an eye on him these days by combining strength, guilt, anxiety and determination with simple looks. Bentley shines as a likeable foil and its great to see the pair as gentlemanly despite all that happens (Bentley's charisma has never been so on display as in this). Hudson though is a weak link, coming across as a cloy and flighty wastrel - jettisoning her for another actress would've been a smart idea.
Kapur and the writers have updated and modernised the stories in some way with toning down of some of the racist elements, but the central story conceit itself is quite dated and will have a hard time connecting with audiences who when called cowards are more than likely to respond by sticking up a finger at the name caller rather than running off to the Sudan.
The Victorian England scenes in particular drag down the film, but once things shift to the Sudan it gets quite compelling in the way it shows off the viciousness of the British in their attempts at establishing and holding their empire, whilst the inclusion of Djimon Honshu is a welcome touch even if the actor seems to have been overused in too many of these parts.
Things shift to a quite dark sequence set around a prison camp which ends in almost Hollywood style fashion though, which is a shame. Kapur took a certain female ruler and crafted a true artwork of a film around her, with this old story though all he can do is beat dirt out of it and come up with lots of sand - albeit the nice powdery kind.