IF you're going to remake a classic novel, especially one which has already been famously committed to film in 1939 with John Clements, Ralph Richardson and C Aubrey Smith, it's probably a good idea to put a fresh and original spin on the source material.

Alas, Shekhar Kapur, director of the Oscar nominated Elizabeth, offers nothing new with this handsome update of AEW Mason's seminal text, set in the late 19th century.

British officer Harry Faversham (Heath Ledger) is delighted when his girlfriend Ethne (Kate Hudson) agrees to marry him, but his joy is short-lived when his regiment is ordered to Sudan to battle the Arab rebels. To general consternation, Harry resigns his commission.

His father, devoted military man General Faversham (Tim Pigott-Smith) denounces his son as a coward, and Harry's three best friends - including fellow officer Jack Durrance (Wes Bentley) - send him white feathers as a symbol of his desertion.

Patriotic to the last, Ethne adds a fourth feather to demonstrate her condemnation of Harry's apparent betrayal, and tries to banish all thoughts of her fiance from her mind. In fact, Harry has been assigned a secret undercover mission to help win the war effort, which involves posing as an Arab to infiltrate the enemy's inner circle.

Aided by the kind-hearted Abou Fatma (Djimon Hounsou), Harry proceeds with his orders, putting his life in danger to learn the whereabouts of the Arab stronghold and the enemy's plans of attack.

Meanwhile, with Harry now out of the way, Jack begins to woo Ethne for himself, unaware that their paths will cross once again in the blistering heat of battle.

The Four Feathers is a triumph of style over substance. Robert Richardson's cinematography is utterly ravishing, capturing the rich earthy tones of the Moroccan desertscapes (standing in here for Sudan).

Big action set-pieces are especially thrilling, such as the breathtaking sight of the British officers adopting a square formation as hundreds upon thousands of sword-wielding Arab horsemen gallop towards them, as James Horner's bombastic orchestral score swells on the soundtrack.

Ledger sheds some of his squeaky clean pretty boy image and valiantly spars with the English accent, mostly emerging victorious.

Hudson looks pretty in some exquisite costumes and Bentley maintains a stiff upper lip throughout as the best friend who secretly desires Ethne for himself.

Unfortunately, all three actors tend to get lost against such a vast, sprawling canvas.

See it at Rex, Wareham