THE MIGHTY BEAN

 

Kristin Battestella has an excellent blog :

 

http://ithinkthereforeireview.blogspot.com/

 

Here you'll find an extensive archive of new commentaries on books, film, tv, and music-in addition to reprints of older reviews and a few screen captures. If you're looking for more than just a few hundred words on the latest film release, sit back and enjoy browsing through Kristin's TV on DVD reviews, nods to classic books and film analysis, off beat music opinions, and much more!

 

She gave me kind permission to post the very insightful reviews on the film’s Sean played in that she has archived there. The ones she did for the regular films are posted in DVDs and Reviews. She reviewed almost all Sharpe episodes, and those you see here.

Rifles

Sharpe’s Rifles Good Introduction to Series

By Kristin Battestella

 

Not many Americans are as familiar with Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe series as we are say Hornblower or Patrick O’Brien’s seafaring fiction. A & E’s films series of C. S. Forester’s Hornblower series and the big screen release of Master and Commander: The Far Side of The World starring Russell Crowe have helped these stories find an audience, but the British made for television Sharpe movies have yet to find mass American appeal. Honestly I don’t know why.

 

1993’s Sharpe’s Rifles starts the series in good fashion. Known for his mostly villainous roles in US productions, Sean Bean (Patriot Games, The Fellowship of the Ring) stars are Sergeant Richard Sharpe, a ruffian journeyman soldier in the midst of England’s war with Napoleon in Spain. After saving the life of Arthur Wellesley (David Troughton)-soon to become Lord Wellington-Sharpe is promoted to Lieutenant and placed in charge of the 95th rifles’ Chosen Men. Sharpe struggles with the gentlemen above him who have bough their commissions while earning the respect of his sharpshooters-including Irish Rifleman Patrick Harper (Daragh O’Malley). Intelligence Major Hogan (Brian Cox) sends Sharpe and his men across Spain in search of a missing banker carrying a badly needed gold draft for the English Army. Along the way, Sharpe must help Major Vivar (Simon Andreu) and Commandante Teresa Moreno (Assumpta Serna) and their Spanish guerillas inspire the oppressed Spanish people against the French.

 

It seems like a lot, yes, and considering Sharpe’s Rifles takes from several of Cornwell’s books, there’s much to set up, back story to explain, people to introduce. This first in the series sometimes falls into the pitfalls that come with introducing one to a series. Which is meant to be the story? Sharpe’s bonding with his men and Teresa or the mission? Each storyline presented is tied up all in good time. One need not continue with the series, but one need not see Rifles to appreciate the second film Sharpe’s Eagle.

 

If the story or set up seems thin, then it is the characters that will keep you watching. We may hate him in America if we know him at all (My husband calls Sean Bean a ‘glorified extra’!) but Sharpe made Bean a household name in the UK. The RADA trained actor can show Sharpe’s anger and doubt, as well as his sensitive side. Yet Bean looks the rough and tumble part. Natural to say that if you don’t like him, you won’t like Sharpe. Richard can be quite an arse from time to time, but he is a soldier of his time. Likewise we may not be used to the stereotypical Chosen Men, but all fit their parts. The educated Harris, The boy Perkins, and of course Harper-the Irish man serving in the English Army.

 

Not all for the boys, Assumpta Serna is perfectly cast as Teresa Moreno. The tough guerilla leader shows her soft side with Sharpe. It’s not an easy role-the ice queen type- but Serna looks the part of this intelligent noblewoman fighting with the consequences of her war torn country.

 

One miss for Sharpe’s Rifles is the score. The nineties electric guitar music is completely off for the time period onscreen, and the style has not stood the test of time. With such British-ness already about it, the ‘Over The Hills and Far Away’ song is perhaps also too English for us across the pond. A rousing classical score would have served the series better. The look of Rifle’s may also seem on the cheap now, but the uniforms, weaponry, and locales all carry the right authenticity to them. The scale for the first film here is small, dealing mostly with peripheral action during the war. Some of the fighting does, however, look ill chorographer and edited. In some sequences we see rifleman simply falling on the ground or Sharpe himself merely looking around in the smoke. There’s a lot of military violence, but little blood and gore.

 

Spoiled younger audiences would probably skip Sharpe’s Rifles but the solid story from Cornwell adapted by Eoghan Harris is worth a gander. Female fans of Sean Bean will no doubt enjoy, but military fans looking for rough action or Napoleonic authenticity will also get hooked on Sharpe. Kids under 10 may not understand all the military politics or shy from the kissing scenes, but it could be fun to turn tweens onto the films and perhaps the Sharpe novels.

 

Sharpe’s Rifles is available individually on dvd or in several Sharpe sets. Unfortunately there are no features, and the digital transfer doesn’t look the best quality. Whether the gritty look is what the production was going for or if its simply weak technology, I don’t know, but the ills don’t infringe on the viewing. In fact, the negatives are all but forgotten once you get into the twist and turns, action, intrigue, and romance that seem to follow Sharpe.

 

Is Sharpe’s Rifles the best film in the series? No, but as the introductory film, it doesn’t necessarily have to be. What you need to know is set for a British boys’ good time. Good enough even for us Americans to enjoy.

Eagle

Sharpe’s Eagle A Fine Book and Film Adaptation

By Kristin Battestella

I previously skipped over Sharpe’s Eagle-the second in the BBC’s television adaptations from the novels by Bernard Cornwell- because I was reading the book. The first Sharpe novel by Cornwell, Eagle is a fine historical work. Surprisingly, the TV adaptation does the written word justice.

 

When we first meet Richard Sharpe in the Eagle novel, he’s a lieutenant raised from the ranks after rescuing Wellington years before in India. Sharpe is a scarred and rough soldier, originally a member of the 95th Rifles. After being left behind by his regiment during battle, Sharpe and his remaining handful of crack shot riflemen move to the South Essex battalion. Sergeant Harper is as close to his superior officer as one in the ranks can be, but Sharpe has his eyes on a captaincy won on the battlefield-a promotion that cannot be taken from him. He can’t afford to buy a commission like the spoiled gentlemen do. New colonel Sir Henry Simmerson doesn’t make things easy for Sharpe-nor does young and greedy Lieutenant Christian Gibbons. The slick nephew of Simmerson contests Sharpe on and off the battlefield. Both men are vying for the affections of abandoned but high class and expensive Portuguese lady Josefina. Sharpe slowly realizes that the only way to gain respect, wealth, fame, and promotion is to capture an imperial eagle.

 

Written in 1981, Cornwell might have a tough time publishing Eagle today. Although there’s currently 21 Sharpe books-the most recent Sharpe’s Fury was publishing in 2006-British born Cornwell’s writing style is distinctly European here. (Later Sharpe novels are more American in feel and have become influenced by the television series.) Cornwell’s British-ness doesn’t detract from the story; the historical accuracy, the richly detailed locales, characters, or Napoleonic vibes. In fact, that British-ness adds to Eagle’s charm. Some Americans, however, may have a slow start adjusting to the English wording and punctuation. Fortunately, once you’re into the book, these quips disappear. The battle action comes off the page, revenge, even romance. Unlike his hesitant Napoleonic compatriot Horatio Hornblower, Sharpe knows what he wants and usually gets it. Whether it’s a little lovin’ or the fine line between murder and killing on the battlefield, the reader is routing for Sharpe.

 

Director Tom Clegg’s 1994 adaptation of Eagle takes all the good from the novel and places it onscreen. Script writer Eoghan Harris sometimes gives us line for line dialogue from the book. Harris knows the written Sharpe to the T, and it shows onscreen. The attention to detail and the pull of material from the Sharpe canon keep Eagle authentic to the books and the history.



Sean Bean plays the titular Sharpe to perfection. Even though the reader reads time and again of the dark haired and scarred Sharpe, the blonde Bean carries all Sharpe’s rough edges along with his intelligence and veiled sensitivity. Daragh O’Malley is likewise ideally cast as Patrick Harper. His scale and wit bring the Irishman to life. In a book and film with so many characters-officers and soldiers coming and going with each storyline-the entire cast of Sharpe’s Eagle looks and feels the part. Some folks just don’t look like they belong in a period piece, but everyone here is either Napoleonic gritty or perfectly Jane Austen. Assumpta Serena is beautiful yet strong as guerilla leader Teresa Moreno, and new Bond Daniel Craig is a young and delightfully ruthless addition-even if his Lietuenant Berry has swapped vile places with Lieutenant Gibbons onscreen.

But of course, movies have to change up a few things. Written years later as a prequel, Sharpe’s Rifles introduces the Sharpe characters to each other, naturally making a good fit as the first film adaptation. Much as I like the Teresa Moreno character, her premature introduction in Rifles and her odd place in the Eagle film diminishes the onscreen relationship of Sharpe and Josefina LaCosta (Katia Callabero). It’s also a bit confusing later on in the Sharpe’s Enemy film when Elizabeth Hurley plays Lady Farthingale-one of the aliases used by Josefina in the novels. More riflemen are also given names and personality in the television series. Only elder statesman rifleman Hagman appears in the early novels. Later novels, of course, incorporate the onscreen Chosen Men.

 

The film adaptation of Sharpe’s Eagle brings the book’s essence to life. Every time I watch, I think to myself, ‘this is a damn good show.’ Sharpe’s Eagle is neither a perfect book nor a perfect film. Both are, however, as near to perfection as is perhaps possible. Fine storytelling, characters, love triangles, action, history. If you’re a fan of all things Napoleonic or even if you just like English period pieces, Sharpe’s Eagle is not to be missed in either medium. Look for the dvd in several available Sharpe collections. The novel may be elusive in big box bookstores, but it is definitely worth the used store hunts or online purchase. Do, however, be prepared to read the other twenty books- Eagle is that addictive. Just look at all the Sharpe reviews I’ve done!

 

 

Company

Sharpe’s Company Above Average Television

By Kristin Battestella

 

Since I’m reading Sharpe’s Eagle, allow me to skip the novel’s film adaptation-the second in the Sharpe series-and continue with the third installment, Sharpe’s Company. Sean Bean returns in this 1994 telefilm as Richard Sharpe, a Captain raised from the ranks by Wellington during the Napoleonic Wars.

 

Sharpe’s Company opens with Sharpe being demoted to a menial Lieutenant after lesser men have bought commissions above him. Separated from Sergeant Harper (Daragh O’Malley) and the rest of the Chosen Men of the 95th Rifles, Sharpe faces off against an enemy from his past, Sergeant Obadiah Hakeswill (Pete Postlethwaite). Hakeswill is a rapist and a thief who was hanged once before, but did not die. Sharpe was flogged because of him, and Hakeswill vows to claim Sharpe’s lover Teresa (Assumpta Serna) for his own. Sharpe can only reclaim his promotion on the battlefield, and he must claim victory to save Teresa and their daughter Antonia from the vile Hakeswill.

The regular cast in Sharpe’s Company has grown into their characters just fine. Serna is again lovely as the guerilla leader Teresa Moreno. Daragh O’Malley is perfect as the ever faithful Harper, but newcomer Pete Postlethwaite steals the show as the sleezy Sergeant Hakeswill. His look, the twitches, his dialogue sells every creepy thing about his character. As much as we love Sharpe for Sharpe, you really want him to get his vengeance on Hakeswill because you can’t stand the slime.

 

Kudos also to the titular Sean Bean. Sharpe’s Company isn’t meant to be too deep or serious, but Bean gives another dimension to Sharpe here. He wants to save the daughter he’s never seen, but he’s also willing to die for his King. I have to admit; sometimes I can’t keep track of who all the new boys are as they come and go. It’s like the red shirts in Star Trek. When a new Lieutenant or Captain makes his appearance-whether he hates Sharpe of befriends him-he usually ends up dead.

 

These passing characters coming or going from author Bernard Cornwell’s canon don’t deter from the story in Sharpe’s Company. In fact, Company is one of the better episodes in the series. Big historical battles are fully explained and in the proper context here, in the midst of Sharpe’s personal dilemmas. His family, his vengeance, his zest for promotion and the conflicts with superiors who are all show-Sharpe’s Company twists all these together in a pretty end. And just think-there’s plenty more Sharpe to be had in the next film, Sharpe’s Enemy.

 

Director Tom Clegg and his production team get the battle sequences down pat for Sharpe’s Company. Despite all the nighttime action, things are well lit, choreographed and edited properly- you know what the heck is going on without being a Napoleonic historian. The hit and miss electric guitar music is still there, but the rousing score during the battle of Badajoz adds to the valiance onscreen.

 

It’s not a big deal, but the credits and the look of the series is slightly better in Sharpe’s Company than previous episodes. It’s not explained which is understandable. The cast is another year older and all, but the little changes in titles, score, and cast continue throughout the series. This is where some behind the scenes features would be really wonderful, but alas again there are no extras or subtitles. The digital transfer is also imperfect, but should these nitpicks turn one away from Sharpe? Surely not.

 

Sharpe’s Company is one of the highlights on the series. Depth and villainy beyond Napoleon are introduced. The epic is there as well as the personal. You need not see Sharpe’s Eagle to enjoy Company, but after this one, how could you not want to see Sharpe’s Enemy?

Check your online retailer for Sharpe-dvd individually or as a box set. Kids might shy from the romancey aspects, but there’s enough story and action for the boys. Young and old viewers can enjoy Sharpe’s Company.

 

Enemy

Sharpe’s Enemy Superior Episode of Series

By Kristin Battestella

 

Just when you thought I was through talking about the British Napoleonic series Sharpe, I present the fourth episode for review. 1994’s Sharpe’s Enemy continues the superior levels established in the previous telefilms. Revenge, damsels in distress, war politics, and rapacious villainy- Enemy has it all.

 

When the beautiful young Lady Farthingdale (Elizabeth Hurley, Bedazzled) is abducted by the vile deserter Obadiah Hakeswill (Pete Postlethwaite), her crusty Colonel husband reluctantly sends Major Richard Sharpe (Sean Bean) to the rescue. Sergeant Harper (Daragh O’Malley) and Sharpe’s wife, guerilla leader Teresa Moreno (Assumpta Serna) have misgivings about the rescue and the nearby French. Sharpe gains a new ally in rifleman Captain ‘Sweet William’ Frederickson (Phillip Whitchurch), but French spy Major Ducos (Feodor Atkine) makes life difficult for Sharpe.

 

We may think of it as stunt casting now, but I don’t think Elizabeth Hurley was as big then as she is now. Naturally, she’s only here for her buxom self, but it’s easy to jump on board with the young wife lusting after Sharpe. Pete Postlethwaite is again delightfully creepy as Hakeswill. He’s slick and twisted, and as much as the gals may think Sharpe dreamy, Hakeswill is probably a more realistic notion of how crusty soldiers really behaved. Assumpta Serna is again wonderful as Teresa Moreno-she is the most developed, confident, and likeable of all the women in the series. And of course, Daragh O’Malley is the ever faithful Harper

 

 

Perhaps the storylines in Sharpe’s Enemy work well because they hail from Bernard Cornwell’s novel, but the plot begins after the events of Sharpe’s Company. You don’t have to watch one to understand the other, but Enemy weaves a complete tale when most sequels stretch material too thin. In the scope of the war with Napoleon, Sharpe’s Enemy is small-focusing rather on personal and private battles. Sharpe again has to sit back while foolish and rich gentleman move above him. He must indulge them while dealing with Hakeswill. Sharpe, unfortunately, pays the ultimate price. Major Ducos enters the picture as the vile ear of Napoleon-a not so subtle reminder that this is really supposed to be the English versus the French.

 

After the excellent action of Sharpe’s Company, there’s not a lot of big battles in Enemy. Small skirmishes with deserters make it tough to tell who’s fighting who. Sharpe’s Enemy, however, showcases another kind of action utilized in the series. He’s quite notorious in the books, but up until now, onscreen Sharpe has been a one woman man. It’s food for thought to see him with another woman at this point in the story. Infidelity is a funny thing, but it’s not meant to be taken so seriously here. Bean fans will probably find Sharpe sexy, and the guys will love Hurley and Serna. Something for everyone.

 

Yet again the DVD transfer seems a bit off, and as involved as the story is in Sharpe’s Enemy, the film ends a tad abruptly. Unless you read the books, you don’t find out what happens to Lady Farthingdale, and Sharpe’s daughter is never mentioned again. These quibbles aren’t rectified, per se, but at least there’s more fun to be had in Sharpe’s Honour.

Sharpe’s Enemy may be a bit too saucy for younger folks, but the depth and the questions raised may bring one to read the books. There’s enough action, beefcake, cheesecake, and vengeance for any audience to enjoy Sharpe’s Enemy.

 

 

Honour

Another Good One for Sharpe’s Honour

By Kristin Battestella

 

Yes I’m still reviewing Sharpe. For fans of the Napoleonic-heck even Jane Austen fans-the series again serves up action, romance, and intrigue in 1994’s Sharpe’s Honour.

Sean Bean returns as Major Richard Sharpe, but he is abruptly stripped of his rank and court marshaled for allegedly murdering a noble Frenchman and assaulting his wife, the Marquesa (Alice Kringe, Star Trek: First Contact). With the help of Sergeant Harper (Daragh O’Malley) and the Chosen Men of the 95th Rifles, Sharpe must rescue the Marquesa to prove his innocence while uncovering the latest plot hatched by French Master Spy Pierre Ducos (Feodor Atkine).

 

I don’t want to spoil anything, but I fell for the twist on my first viewing of this the fifth Sharpe movie. I kept thinking of Han Solo’s infamous words-how was Sharpe going to get out of this one? Bernard Cornwell’s source material gives writer Colin MacDonald and director Tom Clegg plenty of room for mystery and suspense. It may not seem like a lot based on my brief summary, but Sharpe’s Honour has a slightly different vibe to it. Again we’re introduced to the corrupt underside of the War-Wellington (Hugh Fraser) forced to hang folks to save face, Ducos plotting to personally destroy the English and claim victory for France by destroying Sharpe, the twisted Spanish Inquistor- the list goes on. Sharpe’s really got his back up against the wall. And all this of course, is coming off his personal tragedy in the previous film, Sharpe’s Enemy.

 

Alice Krige is a breath of fresh air as the conflicted Marquesa. She’s not traditionally pretty, but she’s sassy and sexy enough for Sharpe. Bean also is able to stretch his acting chops while Sharpe deals with all this mess. Daragh O’Malley and the Sharpe regulars also have their moments this episode. The Rifleman must deliver Harper’s baby! Each movie has built upon the Chosen Men, so much so that Cornwell added their characters to subsequent Sharpe novels. Hugh Fraser as Wellington is always a delight, and Michael Byrne as Major Nairn is a fine Engineer. I’m not sure why the higher ups with Wellington always change-Hogan, now Nairn. Maybe the production is trying to give justice to all the character from the novels, maybe it was actor conflicts, but everyone takes the new folks onscreen in stride. It is after all, the War with Napoleon. Soldiers must come and go every day.

 

Speaking of Napoleon, Sharpe’s Honour is the first episode showcasing the French point of view. We meet the man himself-even though he is speaking English-and Ducos twisted use of any and all people balances out our love for the English Army. Speaking of love, I’m sure the ladies will enjoy the undercover look of Sharpe. This long haired, shabby dressed Sharpe is unkempt and mourning, but good looking, too.

 

Yes, we can all chuckle at the beefcake and cheesecake in Sharpe’s Honour, but a touch more humor-or I should say humour- makes its presence known. Sharpe, tossing chickens at a bunch of nuns rather than hit them. The light heartedness is welcome in this complex political dilemma in which Sharpe and Harper find themselves. Of course there’s that romancey stuff, too. Although, sometimes I wonder how far Sharpe actually takes his liaisons. Some episodes show the bedroom before and after, leaving no doubt of what went on, but other sessions just seem like heavy make outs. You decide. Sharpe’s Honour is one of the tamer shows in that department, and as weaved as the plots are, younger folks may be intrigued by the familiar ideals of justice and vindication.

 

Individually available or purchased in the Sharpe set, Sharpe’s Honour is another reason to take a look at this fine series. So what if the Honor is spelled with a U?

Gold

Guilty Pleasure Miss for Sharpe’s Gold Movie

(or Sharpe’s Gold Novel Modern Historical Gem)

By Kristin Battestella



Sharpe’s Gold is a fine example of how a modern historical novel should be done. I stumbled upon the 1981 book at a library sale and read it on the whim even though it is in the middle of the Sharpe novel series by Bernard Cornwell. I really liked it and definitely recommend it. I can’t say one thing bad about the Sharpe’s Gold novel. Unfortunately, the 1995 television movie adaptation of Sharpe’s Gold is nearly awful.

 

So, it’s taken me to episode six before I have something bad to say about the Sharpe movies. I heard ill about Sharpe’s Gold before I received the Collector’s Set as a birthday gift. Instead of regular writer Eoghan Harris, director Tom Clegg was thrust BAFTA nominee screenwriter Nigel Kneale (The Witches). Unfortunately, Kneale takes the title from Cornwell’s novel but little else.

 

After confronting Provost Lieutenant Ayres (Philip McGough), Sharpe (Sean Bean) is sent on a dangerous mission to exchange rifles for captured British deserters. The Spanish guerillas led by El Casco (Abel Folk) are surrounded by myths and legends-they claim to be descended of Aztecs brought back to Spain and are rumored to have New World gold in the caves where they allegedly sacrifice humans. Sharpe cares not about these ills, until he must also escort Bess (Rosaleen Linehan) and Ellie Nugent (Jayne Ashbourne). The cousins of Wellington (Hugh Fraser) have come in search of Bess’ missing cartographer husband.

 

Yes, I summed it up the best I could, and that odd part about human sacrifices is really in Sharpe’s Gold. Although the opening scenes are almost word for word like the early chapters of the Gold novel, things quickly go wrong. Clucking Irish women kissing Wellington and braving the Spanish countryside alone, El Casco meowing at them; Idol worship and hearts being cut out- it’s all downhill from there. Good moments like the shooting contest and sparring with Provosts aren’t enough to save Kneale’s script.

 

The Sharpe regulars do what they can with Sharpe’s Gold. Bean plays Sharpe the same, but there’s a few times when I found myself saying, ‘Sharpe wouldn’t do that.’ There’s too much exposition passed around between the Provosts and Major Mungo Munro (Hugh Ross). Ashbourne is actually quite likeable-a cute tomboy who knows her rifles, but Ellie’s quickly made stupid and unbelievable by the events given.

 

Suffice to say I would much rather have seen a proper adaptation of the Sharpe’s Gold novel. Even if Kneale hadn’t butchered the script, the series may have backed itself into a corner with the early introduction of Teresa Moreno-who actually meets Sharpe in this book while he’s on a mission to steal Spanish gold for Wellington. The attraction and romance on the page is honest, as is the action and battle strategy. Of course we get no proper battles onscreen in Sharpe’s Gold, and the romance this time around is unbelievable. Even in a series as tongue and cheek as Sharpe, the notion that Sharpe would bag a babe in a bush in front of her mother and all the riflemen is just ridiculous.

 

While I’m on the subject, the tiki dolls they use as the Aztec idols are very bad, and the conquistador armor worn by El Casco and his men is just dumb. Thankfully, Sharpe saves the day by looking good as always, and the Sharpe in the novel is dang good, too. Good enough in fact, to have me reading the books from the beginning.

 

Fans of Sean Bean and Sharpe will mst3k Sharpe’s Gold to their heart’s content, but this episode in the series is not for everyone. Never introduce someone to the series with this film-in fact, invite naysayers to take a peek at the book instead. Completists will no doubt have the DVD in one of the Sharpe movie sets, but both book and movie being named Sharpe’s Gold is an injustice. Great book, bad movie.

Battle

Sharpe’s Battle Returns to Form

By Kristin Battestella

 

If 1995’s Sharpe’s Gold had you doubting this British Napoleonic television series, think again. The seventh episode Sharpe’s Battle returns the war series to the proper action, betrayal, and romance.

 

After finding a massacred village, Major Richard Sharpe (Sean Bean) challenges the vile French General Loupe (Oliver Cotton). Lord Wellington (Hugh Fraser) sends Sharpe and the raw Irish Royal Guard to a small outpost near French lines, but Irish noble Lord Kiely (Jason Durr), his lonely wife (Allie Byrne), and Irish-English tensions make the stay tough for Sharpe and Sergeant Harper (Daragh O’Malley). Horse Master General Runican (Ian McNiece) is of little help to Sharpe-and Partisan leader Juanita (Siri Neal) isn’t all she appears to be.

 

Multi-leveled storylines and ambiguous friends and foes are just a few of Sharpe’s Battle’s highlights. New writer Russell Lewis (who also wrote the newest Sharpe in 2006) remains true to Bernard Cornwell’s characters. Strangely, it’s almost as if Sharpe is not the focus of this episode. He’s the middle man between Kiely and wife, Wellington and Loupe, the Irish and the English. I didn’t expect Battle to take some of the turns it did-although one plot twist is a bit obvious. I like Loupe. He’s creepy looking, even if a bit over the top with his wolf motifs. And of course, there’s always an uppity officer with questionable motives to dislike.

 

The Sharpe regulars are also back to themselves after those questionable turns in Sharpe’s Gold. O’Malley gives Harper a deeper touch when it comes to the Irish-English relations, and Sean Bean’s Sharpe is actually not the ladies man this time around. Onscreen we don’t always get to see Sharpe’s military shrewdness. Kudos also to the Chosen Men. Hangman, Harris, and Perkins receive their showcase here.

 

Although not nearly as hokey looking at Gold, Sharpe’s Battle does look dated and a tad obvious. Some of the deserted towns and battle sets are clearly buildings we’ve seen in prior Sharpe shows, and Loupe’s wolf getup is a bit goofy. Nevertheless, Battle looks Napoleon authentic. In this film we’re treated to more ladies than usual. Harper’s lady Ramona (Diana Perez) is involved more than, giving us an intriguing picture of women during the war- English, Spanish, and French ladies of all classes. It’s a light hearted touch in a somewhat dark and personal episode.

 

Sharpe’s Battle has its share of war action, but there’s also politics, double-crossing, tragedy, and cheesecake to go around. A fine edition to the Sharpe series.

 

Sword

Sharpe’s Sword Familiar, but Still Good

By Kristin Battestella

 

You would think there’s nothing new to say about Sharpe’s Sword- the eighth film in the British television series. In some ways, actually, there isn’t. Sharpe’s Sword retreads familiar ground, but refreshes the oft-told storyline with romance, villainy, and charm.

 

Sword opens with French Colonel Leroux (Patrick Fierry) ambushing a religious convoy. Only young Lass (Emily Mortimer) escapes, too shocked to say anything when Major Richard Sharpe (Sean Bean) and his men rescue her. Sharpe also captures Leroux in a skirmish, but he has switched coats with his aide and claims to be a simple soldier. Sharpe doubts Leroux’s story, but is tied by Major Munro (Hugh Ross) and Lord Jack Spears (James Purefoy) ruling against him. Sharpe and Spears, however, become friends on their mission. Munro needs them to ensure the safety of Wellington’s master spy, El Matador. Unfortunately, Sharpe’s nemesis Sir Henry Simmerson (Michael Cochrane) runs the politics impeding Sharpe’s way.

 

There’s a lot to cover in Sharpe’s Sword and yet it can read like the likes of fan fiction: Sharpe Beds Mute Girl. On one hand the storylines in Sword seem a bit preposterous, yet they are dang good, too. Everyone has something to do here. Sharpe and each guest star, Harper, Harris, Hagman, Ramona. Everyone has a chance to prove his or her love, loyalty, worth, honor, or villainy. Not as ridiculous as Sharpe’s Gold, but Sword even has a bit of realistic mysticism to it. The power of a love, loyalty, and religion is examined well here.

 

Like Sharpe’s Battle before, Sean Bean’s titular character is not necessarily the star of this episode. Sure everything that happens does so because of him, but Bean spends a large portion of the film convalescing. Sword is carried by the fine performances of Daragh O’Malley, Diana Perez as Ramona, and Emily Mortimer as Lass. It’s never easy to act without speaking, and the ambiguity of Mortimer and John Kavanagh as Father Curtis add to the story. The villains are vile as ever. It is quite bad on my part, but I couldn’t tell if Spears really didn’t have an arm or not. But of course I looked up where I had seen Purefoy before, and well, Rome, yeah, he’s got both arms! Good film trickery and acting all around.

 

Sharpe’s Sword fortunately utilizes new locations this time around. I don’t know how authentic the fort is, but it looks cool. The monastery and library also look lovely and peaceful-a flowery break in the midst of war. The battles are quite fine in Sword as well. The turns the action takes are unexpected, even though Sharpe really shouldn’t be charging a fort after the wounds he sustains. It’s a little unbelievable, but if you’re still watching this far in the series, you don’t mind routing for the miraculously healed Sharpe.

 

Of course, there are still no subtitles or digital perfection, but Sharpe’s Sword has well done action, acting, loyalty, and betrayal. Not bad for Sharpe Beds Mute Girl.

 

Regiment

Sharpe’s Regiment Different and Fun

By Kristin Battestella

 

Now, Now. After eight previous Sharpe episodes, I might be tired of the Napoleon Wars, too. Fortunately, writer Charles Wood and Director Tom Clegg give this British TV adaptation of Bernard Cornwell’s novels a fine change of pace.

 

When Major Richard Sharpe’s (Sean Bean) South Essex regiment is about to be disbanded, he and Sergeant Harper (Daragh O’Malley) travel back to England to find new recruits. Unfortunately, Sharpe’s old enemy Sir Henry Simmerson (Michael Cochrane) and Secretary of War Lord Fenner (Nicholas Farrell) are up to no good in organizing the South Essex’s second battalion. Simmerson’s niece Jane Gibbons (Abigail Cruttenden) decides to help Sharpe when he and Harper go undercover and reenlist in the second battalion.

 

There are plenty of ladies in Sharpe’s Regiment, but the politics and 19th century boot camp stylings give this film a different vibe. We’ve seen Sharpe whip his men into shape before. Unfortunately this time, Sharpe and Harper are on the receiving end-and it’s nasty. We only see Spain and the Chosen Men at the beginning and end of the show, but in-between we are treated to period London, high society, and crooked politicians. Its fun to see how Sharpe is treated back home: loved by old friends, hated by politicians, loved by the Prince Regent. Sharpe’s show stopping rescue of the Second Battalion is a fun twist on those unloving Sharpe folks.

 

Sean Bean shows his worth in Sharpe’s Regiment. We see him living it up in London with a woman or two, but he’s shy before the Regent, unaccustomed to royal balls. Bean gives another dimension to Sharpe as he tries to help the younger recruits who aren’t up to snuff. Likewise Daragh O’Malley expands on the Irish factor of ever loyal Harper. He’s serious, yet full of humor.

 

Caroline Langrishe as Lady Anne Camoynes is great fun. Her relationship with Sharpe is an unusual one, but she has purpose to her methods. Unfortunately, Abigail Cruttenden is a miss as Jane Gibbons. It’s horrible to dislike Sean Bean’s future wife, but the character is by nature rushed, forced, and the wrong fit for Sharpe. Her wishy washy and whiney ways make it odd that Sharpe would fall for her so quickly-especially since his mild obsession with Jane isn’t explained here as it is in the books. But alas, there’s a few more random women to be had in Regiment, and there’s villains a plenty. All the higher ups are slime, and Cochrane as Simmerson is as slick as ever. It’s great fun to see these ‘filth’ get their due.

 

The England at home locales is another pleasant change of pace in Sharpe’s Regiment. Some things seem crowded or small scale, but I imagine some of the pubs and salacious alleyways were so. The pomp and ceremony could have been bigger, but it all looks accurate enough. The marshes that Sharpe and Harper give chase through look like a lot of messy fun, and yet they’re picturesque at the same time. Some of it, however, can seem silly: two men besting incompetent pompous snots on horseback over and over again. The costumes are also a bit silly; Golf caps and pom pom balls with white jumpsuits amidst Full Metal Jacket 19th Century style. It’s very strange to see our boys dressed so, even though it allows for plenty of time to get down and dirty. The absurdity is poked at onscreen, and everyone looks to be having fun.

 

Sharpe’s Regiment is everything this series is about-authentic recreations of Napoleonic England, good boys battling adventure and political intrigue, bad guys getting their due. Available individually or in the series set; Sharpe’s Regiment is an offbeat, but fine edition to the series.

Siege

Sharpe’s Siege Fine Mix of Humor, War

By Kristin Battestella

 

1996’s Sharpe’s Siege has all the things one expects from the British series-ladies in distress, Napoleonic action, humor, and camaraderie. Siege however, offers a few surprises.

Major Richard Sharpe (Sean Bean) is ordered to leave his new wife Jane (Abigail Cruttenden) and march with his new arrogant Colonel Bampfylde (Christpher Villiers) to a castle in France. French nobleman Compte de Marquerre (Christian Brendel) is helping the British raise rebellion in France against Napoleon, but the mission does not go as planned. Fever is sweeping the army, Harper (Daragh O’Malley) has a terrible toothache, and French Master Spy Pierre Ducas (Feodor Atkine) is never far from Sharpe.

 

Sharpe’s Siege sheds light on the relationships between Sharpe and his men. O’Malley nearly steals the show with the humor and absurdity of Harper’s toothache and Philip Whitchurch gives another fine yet peculiar turn as Captain Frederickson. Even the red shirt riflemen are given personality and meaning as they come and go. Wellington (Hugh Fraser) and Major General Ross (James Laurenson) have their moments, but once again the weak link in Siege is the new Mrs. Sharpe. Abigail Cruttenden’s Jane is meant to be snotty, and blessedly she’s down and out with the fever for most of this entry.

 

Strangely, it’s Sean Bean’s Sharpe that seems off this time as well. He seems to get over his wife’s illness very quickly. Would he really place the mission and the army above his new wife? Would he give a remedy that would cure her to the enemy, and then almost get down and naughty with a Frenchwoman? In the books, perhaps. At least the villains are on form. Incompetent Colonels and ambiguous French thankfully keep Siege’s focus on battles and intrigue.

 

The premise of Sharpe’s Siege seems stretched thin, but it’s a pleasant change of pace to at last get into a campaign in France. The action is its usual authenticity, but the look of the French castle is a little bare. Understandable, I suppose for the war, but dark and ill constructed. Amira Casar as Catherine however, is a fine damsel for Sharpe. Not traditionally pretty, but she’s caught between the English and French, plus her dept to Sharpe. Married Sharpe’s reaction to a young French thing trying to repay him is delightfully funny-even if it seems a bit out of place if you think about it too much.

 

Sharpe’s Siege is not perfect. There’s too little and yet too much going on between characters old and new. Thankfully, by this time, the franchise knows what works, and Siege is a fine edition for Sharpe fans to enjoy.

Mission

Too Much Almost undoes Sharpe’s Mission

By Kristin Battestella

 

Compared to the first nearly original script Sharpe’s Gold, I should be thankful for all the things Sharpe’s Mission does well. This composite story for Eoghan Harris has all the good things from the Sharpe series, but it’s almost too much of a good thing.

 

Major Richard Sharpe (Sean Bean) and Sergeant Harper (Daragh O’Malley) must go on a mission to destroy a French ammunition store house. Major Ross (James Laurenson) brings in his disfigured explosives specialist friend Pyecroft (Nigel Betts) for the mission, but reconnaissance specialist Major Brand (Mark Strong) and his men, however, are reckless and wild-putting Sharpe’s mission and Wellington’s (Hugh Fraser) camp at risk. Meanwhile, a reporter from England named Shellington (Warren Saire) attempts to charm Sharpe’s wife Jane (Abigail Cruttenden) while he’s away, and Rifleman Harris (Jason Salkey) must protect her.

 

It’s a lot yes. Everything is good, I must say, but there’s enough material in this first truly original script for two films; gypsies and murder, corruption and trials, poets and infidelity. Maybe writer Eoghan Harris and director Tom Clegg feared things would appear too thin, but there’s something for everyone instead. Trouble is the balance isn’t quite right. Things that should be developed more aren’t, and yet scenes linger where they shouldn’t. Is this film about Sharpe and Jane? Or the crooked Major Brand? Perhaps gypsies and the disfigured Pyecroft? I just don’t know. Do I like Sharpe’s Mission? Of course.

 

The guest cast is spot on for Mission. Strong as Major Brand is kind of attractive in an evil creepy way, and Saire’s Shellington is obviously a used car salesman interested in more than just poetry. Betts gives a fine performance as the masked, deformed Pyecroft, and his relationship with Major Ross gives depth to the parallel relationships between Ross, Wellington, and Sharpe. It’s not easy for an actor to work in a mask, and likewise this unnamed and uncredited gypsy girl gives a peculiar performance. She’s not mute, but we never hear her speak onscreen.

 

Harris and Harper have their moments in Sharpe’s Mission, as well as Ramona. It’s as if the production is trying to give due to all the support in the Sharpe series. They all do lovely, but it’s just so much. Many relationships are discussed in Sharpe’s Mission- everyone from Wellington to Ramona’s “ups and downs”. It may seem strange to say again, but future real life husband and wife Sean Bean and Abigail Cruttenden look like limp fish together onscreen. This of course fits for this Sharpe marriage. It was ill conceived to begin with, and the opposite social positions of Jane and Richard are beginning to interfere with the couple’s bliss. For all the bedroom scenes where they hotten up Jane, she still becomes ugly and stupid the moment a society man is around. The notion that Rifleman Harris is more trusted and more loyal to Sharpe does not bode well for this marriage.

 

The gypsy look could have been better or less stereotypical, but production values are on form here. This might have been one of the big budget episodes, with plenty of extras, explosions, and sets. Instead of the low budget and bleak war scenarios that Sharpe has presented, Mission treats us to plenty of everything here. Multiple viewings for this one, indeed.

 

Revenge

Sharpe’s Revenge Gets Everything Right

By Kristin Battestella

 

I took a brief break from reading, watching, and reviewing Sharpe, but soon enough I had to dive in again with Sharpe’s Revenge. The first of 1997’s Sharpe’s telefilms, Revenge pulls out all the stops onscreen and off.

 

Now that the war with Napoleon is nearing its end, Major Richard Sharpe (Sean Bean) places his 10,000 guinea fortune in his wife Jane’s (Abigail Cruttenden) power of attorney. She makes him promise that this will be his final battle, but after one too many insults, Sharpe fights a duel after the war is concluded. Angered and influenced by her power hungry friends, Jane takes Sharpe’s money and returns to England, where she is charmed by Lord Rossendale (Alexis Denisof, Angel). Sharpe, however, cannot pursue Jane, for he is framed for stealing Napoleon’s treasure by French Master Spy Pierre Ducos (Feodor Atkine).

 

 Along with Sergeant Patrick Harper (Daragh O’Malley) and Captain Frederickson (Philip Whitchurch), Sharpe escapes his trial to find the French witness who could clear him. Unfortunately, Sharpe is wounded by French widow Lucille (Cecile Paoli). Once recovered, Sharpe must unite with French Colonel Calvet (John Benfield) to defeat Ducos once and for all.

 

Despite the absence of series stalwarts Harris, Hagman, and even Wellington, the cast of Sharpe’s Revenge is perhaps at its best. Bean adds a new element of hurt and anger as the jilted husband, and Daragh O’Malley is true again as ever loyal Patrick Harper. Atkine is slick to the hilt as Ducos, and after disliking Calvet for several episodes, it’s a fine turnaround to see the fallen commander as another displaced soldier after a lifetime of war. The glue of Revenge, however, is Phillip Whitchurch as ‘Sweet’ William Frederickson. His soldier gritty, grisly appearance meets his intelligent and loyal self here. Who knew what Frederickson would do for Sharpe-or what Sharpe could inadvertently do to his Captain? The depth here has me looking forward to the Revenge novel.

 

Not only does writer Eoghan Harris and director Tom Clegg give us a worthy story adaptation, but production at last has caught up with the show. This was the height of Sharpe and the series pulls out all the stops here. The locations are fresh and dressed to the hilt. Jane’s splendor in London is indeed richy rich. The established electric guitar Sharpe themes open and close the movie, but a lovely score echoes Sharpe’s respite in Normandy. True instrumental compositions, eureka! Revenge finally puts everything all together. Sure we have the guilty pleasures that make Sharpe Sharpe, but we have extra high class touches that give this episode some umph. It’s as if we’re done with the action, so now’s the time to reflect upon the characters who bring the show-these books-to life.

 

At the time, Sharpe’s Revenge and the subsequent Justice and Waterloo were to be the final Sharpe shows. (Now we have two more, the two part Challenge and the forthcoming Peril.) This, however, would be a fitting place to end the series. Fine send offs, peace at last. Irony of ironies Sharpe has found a home with Lucille in Normandy. I like her and Cecile Paoli’s performance. She’s not ugly, but not sexed up as previous women have been. Well, I take that back. We are definitely made aware of Lucille’s unconventional hotness! Strange then to see the opposite side of the coin in the wayward Mrs. Sharpe (and real life Mrs. Bean). Denisof’s Rossendale is obvious to everyone but Jane, who is now played perfectly by Cruttenden. Jane is pomp and pompous and too late realizes the error of her ways. Three episodes ago she was abhorred at the notion of auctioning of soldiers ‘like slaves’. Yet in Revenge, Jane has invested in slave and cotton stock to up keep her lavish lifestyle. Tut tut.

 

Although there’s no real connection to the previous film, Sharpe’s Mission, Revenge’s story continues into Sharpe’s Justice. Again, you don’t have to see the follow up, but how could you not want to? I wouldn’t introduce new fans to the series with this episode, however. There’s a tying up loose ends feeling here that can only be appreciated by series fans that have been on this ride all along. Fans that haven’t seen the series in a while will have a good time. Look for the dvds if you haven’t done so already.

Justice

Sharpe’s Justice Uneven Back Story

By Kristin Battestella

 

After his Revenge and before Waterloo producers of the BBC’s Sharpe series tried one more time for an original episode. Taking pieces of Sharpe’s history from the Cornwell novels, writer Patrick Harbinson and director Tom Clegg present an uneven mix of Sharpe’s past, present, and future with Sharpe’s Justice.

 

Now that Napoleon is in exile in Elba, Major Sharpe (Sean Bean) is posted to his old Yorkshire haunts in support of mill owner Parfitt (Tony Haygarth) and his punky yeoman Wickham (Douglas Henshall). Fellow Yorkshire man Matt Truman (Philip Glenister), however, has inspired the factory workers and other poor townsfolk to rise up against the rich. Even homeless rifleman Daniel Hagman(John Tams) joins this cause. Sharpe is soon torn between friends from his past and the high society pressing him, including Lady Anne Camoynes (Caroline Langrishe) and his wayward wife Jane (Abigail Cruttenden).

 

It’s a lot to cover in one show; Sharpe’s family, the state of the war at home, Jane’s attempt to climb the social ladder. Despite its effort to show us where Sharpe came from, Sharpe’s Justice is not an introductory episode. Nor is it necessarily all about how Sharpe became Sharpe. We’ve watched twelve previous shows to witness that. Justice is also trying to tie up lose ends in what was then the second to last episode of the series. Hagman and ever present Sergeant Patrick Harper have their moments, and Richard finally confronts Jane about her leaving him and robbing him blind. Is Justice looking towards the old or setting up for the new? You make the call.

 

At last I have praise for Abigail Cruttenden as Jane. The high society she craved is not exactly what it seems, and in retrospect, life with Sharpe was a lot more passionate. Cruttenden is perfect now that Jane is put in her place and pouting at Sharpe. Bean also continues to shine through the internal conflicts of Richard Sharpe. He is uncomfortable with his past, more likely ashamed. As proud as Sharpe should be of all his accomplishments, he is also once again a man with out a place, a jilted soldier with no one but the wrong people to fight. I would have liked more from Glenister as the Matt Truman. He’s little more than a pot faced, toothless, cranky English guy. Karen Meagher as Sally Bunting is also the typical mousy type. They are cute and relate-able, but there could be deep moving characters here. Is this too much to expect from an original Sharpe movie? Maybe- but not from the novels.

 

After so many episodes of war in Spain and Portugal, it is however a pleasant treat to see Regency England again. The down trodden villages are perhaps small scale, but the dirty and dark looks contrast perfectly with the lush and pomp of the rich mansions and estates. The candlelight in Justice is done perfectly. It’s dark in the low pubs, the only source of light and heat; yet it is also elegant and bright amid party parlors and chandeliers. I must also say that Sharpe and Harper look smashing on horseback. The beautiful animals and wooded locales give Justice a fine touch. We do see a bit of what Sharpe has been fighting for all these years-yes the pomp of England, but also the lovely country itself and a people in need of hope.

 

Sharpe’s Justice doesn’t get super deep or serious, but since when does that stop one’s enjoyment of this show? There’s plenty of action, romance, and period drama, even if Justice never decides what direction it’s really taking. It’s as if Revenge, Justice, and Waterloo are meant as one film in three parts. Each gets us one step closer to the end while honoring this crazy Napoleonic ride we’ve been on. The dvds are available in box set or as part of the complete collection. Justice is not the place to introduce a new viewer to Sharpe, but it’s a must for any Sharpe enthusiast.

Waterloo

Sharpe’s Waterloo A Beautiful Finale

By Kristin Battestella

 

Alrighty folks! Here we are. The end of the end. Really, I mean it! Well… now we know there’s more Sharpe, but in 1997, Waterloo was it. It’s a fitting place to break the Napoleonic series based on the novels by Bernard Cornwell.

 

Now that Napoleon has escaped Elba, Sharpe (Sean Bean) has his French lover Lucille’s (Cecile Paoli) blessing to fight again. Now a Lieutenant Colonel on the Prince of Orange’s (Paul Bettany) staff, Sharpe is joined by ever loyal Patrick Harper (Daragh O’Malley), and Rifleman Harris (Jason Salkey) and Daniel Hagman (John Tams) for this last hurrah. Sharpe’s estranged wife Jane (Abigail Cruttenden) wants a piece of the grand action for herself, even convincing her spineless lover Lord Rossendale (Alexis Denisof) to kill Sharpe. Amid the battles and the balls, all of allied Europe is converging on Waterloo. Sharpe’s reason to fight, however, is a modest one. Just once he wants to see Napoleon for himself.

 

I’ve said before that Sharpe episodes tend to pack a lot into their near two hour running time. But the Battle of Waterloo is perhaps as big as one can get. Director Tom Clegg and writer Charles Wood expertly blend the private battles and internal storylines of the Sharpe series amid complex historic action. In such a well documented and oft studied event, it might be tough to find a crevice for Sharpe, but his place amid the battle is realistic and believable. Everyone has his or her moment, and only a feeling of pride trails Waterloo. We’ve been with the Chosen Men from the beginning- twenty two hours from Portugal to Spain and France. Now the viewer can’t help but cheer as Sharpe marches into the sunset. Although the previous episodes have always ended with Sharpe’s march away from the camera (and we know Challenge now follows) Waterloo’s concluding scene is perfection.

 

 

If you don’t have the complete edition, Waterloo is available individually or in a collector’s set with previous episodes Revenge and Justice. I’ve said it before, but the three together may be some of Sharpe’s finest. You can forgive the original retrospective of Justice when it’s taken with this hurrah. Of course, I would have loved to see some behind the scenes material or reflections from the cast and crew beyond the compilation Sharpe The Legend. I wasn’t that into Sharpe when it was first on television. I was reading Hornblower at the time, so it’s strange that Sharpe ended, ITV began producing Hornblower, and now they refuse to make more Hornblower and have returned to Sharpe with Challenge, released in 2006 and Peril, coming this fall. As beautiful a conclusion Waterloo was, I wonder why they stopped making shows in 97? Why not go on? There’s more material from Cornwell still to be had.

 

Whether it was Bean’s choice or a production decision to conclude, everyone involved in Waterloo is up to the task of the finale. Oft underrated, Sean Bean has perhaps never been better. The entire cast seems bittersweet, from the in jokes between Sharpe and Harper to the last hurrah of Hagman and Harris. Everyone has his shining moment and some get their just due, ahem Jane. Paul Bettany is delicious as the corrupt Prince of Orange, and the banter between Bettany and Bean is delightful, just the right level between the carnage of Waterloo. It took Sharpe’s production team about ten episodes to nail its own value and style, but the Waterloo theater here is the best battle shown in Sharpe. I can’t recall viewing another recreation of Waterloo that’s better. We’ve got our regular Sharpe music of course, but again the crew has found battle worthy compositions to accompany the lofty visuals.

 

Unfortunately there is one downside to Waterloo. You can’t just pop in the video any time you wish. Alone, it’s a fine television production, sure, but Waterloo can only be fully appreciated with the previous thirteen episodes behind it. If you haven’t started watching Sharpe yet, what are you waiting for?

 

 

Sharpe - The Legend

Sharpe The Legend, An Unusual Retrospective

By Kristin Battestella


Included in the Complete Sharpe Collector’s Set is the special highlight DVD Sharpe The Legend. Originally released on vhs with the final episodes, The direct to video reminisce Legend brings back the mysteriously departed Rifleman Cooper (Michael Mears) as he sits in a pub telling a friend (ie the camera) about the stellar escapades of one Richard Sharpe, chronicling the original episodes from Rifles to Waterloo. It’s the typical tongue and cheek of this series and fans will delight in the actions, duels, loves, and losses from almost 25 hours of Sharpe television.

 

Despite this wealth of Sharpe canon onscreen and off, only the hardcore fan will appreciate Legend. It may be a highlight reel, but Legend gives away too much for it to be an introductory piece. Only a fan can appreciate the returned Cooper, his quirky reminisces, and the cheeky pub approach. I can picture my 10 and 11 year old nieces –who are actually very interested in Sharpe- laughing and saying “What is this?”

 

Sharpe The Legend also suffers from the same poor production that hampers earlier Sharpe episodes. The editing and lighting is very poor, and Cooper’s narration is a bit off. Sometimes he talks over onscreen voices, other times there is silence when a good quip is needed. Some of the highlights don’t even match the setup, and they are often overlong and poorly paced. Not all the ladies are shown in Sharpe’s conquests, and honestly, not the best highlights were even chosen. A proper retrospective with the entire cast reflecting on the show would have perfectly filled the void of no behind the scenes footage.


Sure I’ve been harsh, so far, but now let’s look at what Sharpe enthusiasts will love about Sharpe The Legend. Fans that wonder about Cooper’s absence halfway through the series receive no answers here. In fact, Cooper’s onscreen chat takes us chronologically through the entire series. How could Cooper talk so frankly about Jane and Waterloo? He wasn’t there! Die hards will also notice the infamous Sharpe’s Gold is totally ignored and no comment is made on the two Wellingtons. Pieces of Legend also compose the opening menus on the Sharpe DVDs.

 

For fans that have just finished viewing the series its great to look back, or if you’ve hopped around episodes, you can catch goodness you might have missed. Ladies in need of a quick Bean fix can pop in a video that is all Sharpe. Despite its clip reel style, this is why Legend is not meant for beginners. It spoils all of Sharpe’s goodness.

If you own the complete tape collection or any of the collector sets on DVD, you probably already own Sharpe The Legend. It’s not a must have unless you’re a completist, but for folks who have seen Sharpe in the past and want to get back to the series, Legend is full of memories.

 

 

Sharpe’s Challenge Worthy Return

By Kristin Battestella

 

After a ten year break, the BBC returned to its Napoleonic series Sharpe in 2006 with Sharpe’s Challenge. Based on the novels by Bernard Cornwell, this special two part episode is slim on premise but big on action and exotic locales.

 

Five years after Waterloo, Richard Sharpe (Sean Bean) is now alone on his farm in Normandy after his French lover’s death. He is suddenly summoned to England by Lord Wellington (Hugh Fraser), and at first declines the chance to put down an uprising in India. Wellington’s first agent in India, horse trader Patrick Harper (Daragh O’Malley), however, has gone missing. Sharpe finds Harper once he reaches India, and together they must rescue damsels in distress and overthrow corrupt Indian warlords.

 

Sharpe’s Challenge is an awkward tale to summarize. On one hand its moving forward, taking place after Waterloo, but it is a composite of Cornwall’s early Sharpe novels Tiger, Triumph, and Fortress. This mix of the two time periods automatically sets Challenge up for conflicting story points and even anger from die hard fans. If Sharpe’s lover Lucille is dead, long time writer Russell Lewis and director Tom Clegg have erased two of Sharpe’s children. Oops. Now that I’ve gone back to read Sharpe’s Tiger I can see where pieces have appeared in Challenge. Its strange to read about Private Sharpe under Sergeant Hakeswill in Tiger when Challenge merely gives us a briefly red coated and pony tailed Bean. Could the powers that be have made a full length trilogy with some new young folk as Sharpe? Bean is no spring chicken, but in this day of reimagings and remakes I’m glad the production has stuck with its fans.

Challenge brings back all of our old Sharpe favorites. It’s great that everyone was willing to come back and storylines were made to accommodate Wellington, the decrepit Simmerson (Michael Cochrane), even Ramona. There’s a few snafus regarding characters who were killed earlier in the series that are somehow alive and well here, and Sergeant Bickerstaff is clearly a poor man’s Hakeswill. Sean Bean however, is on form, and the reunion with Daragh O’Malley makes Challenge. The guest stars for Sharpe’s Challenge seem more high end than the series of old. Padme Lakshmi (Now of Top Chef who I knew from her dreadful guest spot on Enterprise) is perfectly cast as the icy and exotic Madhuvanthi. I did however expect more from Toby Stephens (Robin Hood, Die Another Day) He just grimaces and pursues his lips a lot and says kinky things. I imagine some British gals find this very pretty, but we’ve seen better, uglier and nastier villains in Sharpe.

 

Challenge does give us something we haven’t seen in Sharpe before: India. Despite the story’s confusions, India was by far the best move for Challenge and future Sharpe productions. Some of the battles seem dusty and small scale, almost like the first film Sharpe’s Rifles where the logistics were still being figured out. On the whole, however, the cultural changes, use of native scenery, historical sites, and local extras give Challenge an extra flair. I’m not sure how accurate the ladies’ costumes are to the period, but they are very bright in what has been a somewhat dark and drab series. And they show some skin, always important for male viewers! At last it seems that technology has finally caught up to the fun stories and action Sharpe has told. Challenge looks so big, bright, and epic. I’m glad this episode is longer than the previous ninety minute installments. The look and excitement of Challenge tell us there’s still fuel left in Sharpe’s engine.

 

And shocker of shockers what does my Sharpe’s Challenge DVD have? Extras, by golly I kid you not! Although the behind the scenes feature has a silly, aloof focus on an Indian extra’s quest to meet Sean Bean, these long awaited insights into the Sharpe series are more than welcome. Fight choreography, interviews with Cornwell and the cast, humorous on set moments. Not all of it is stellar material, but after fourteen Sharpe movies with no extras, I’ll take it! What else am I loving on my Sharpe’s Challenge DVD? The bloopers? The photo gallery? No, the subtitles!


Sharpe’s Challenge is a must for Sean Bean fans and Sharpe collectors. You’re complete collection is now incomplete without it. Challenge may not be perfect, but the spirit of Sharpe is alive and well here. A new telefilm, Sharpe’s Peril, is airing across the pond soon. Is Sharpe’s Challenge the introductory film to a new Sharpe series? I hope so!

 

 

Sharpe’s Peril Imperfect but Still Great Fun
By Kristin Battestella

Yes I’m still reading and watching Sharpe! At long last, the sixteenth episode in the long running British series based on the books by Bernard Cornwell has come to the States. 2008’s Sharpe’s Peril has just enough charm and exotic Indian adventure for long time fans to delight.

Retired Colonel Richard Sharpe (Sean Bean) and his friend, former Sergeant Major Patrick Harper (Daragh O’Malley) have done their duty in India and are ready to return home. Unfortunately, the local Viscount makes one final request of Sharpe-he must escort the temperamental Marie-Angelique Bonnet (Beatrice Rosen) to Kalimgong to meet her fiancé, Major Phillipe Joubert (Pascal Langdale). Along the road, Sharpe encounters a mixed column of King’s men and East India Company soldiers led by young Ensign Beauclere (Luke Ward-Wilkinson) and engineering Major Tredinnick (David Robb). The two have combined their forces in light of recent bandit raids and are escorting the prisoner Barabbas (Amit Behl, Tum Milo Toh Sahi) and Maharani Padmini (Nandana Sen) to Madras. Calvary Colonel Dragomirov (Velibor Topic) is unable to catch the local bandits, and Sharpe reluctantly agrees to lead the column to safety. However, internal treachery and Indian deceptions make the journey, well, quite perilous.

Sharpe’s Peril introduces us to an unusual wagon train that must band together, and it’s a very unhappy mix: angry King’s men, a major escorting his pregnant wife, the princess’ traveling caravan, a somewhat zealous missionary, and a selfish French bride-to-be. And yet, no one is what they seem. The random players are each bad or likeable and go on a journey of self in addition to the dangerous trek. There’s lots of rapacious incidents and kinky action, too, to keep Sharpe’s Peril juicy. Even Sharpe himself has to take a moment at the crazy turns this motley train takes. Crooked company men swindling on drug trafficking and implicating a local righteous rebel is a little too much of a twentieth century plot, I grant you, but it’s not like opium trade didn’t go on back in the day. In some ways this also adds to the dangers at hand-us upright westerners fearing heady, mind bending drugs in the exotic wilds of lawless India! There’s nothing like internal dissention, religious division, and cultural fears when you need some period piece drama. However, for every bad apple and twisted situation, we have a kindhearted moment of the column uniting against journey and tragedy.

Sean Bean is once again on form as Our Man Richard. Yes, he looks older than in Challenge; but here he is styled better, back to wearing rifle green and bemused by this crazy detour back to England. Bean isn’t as bleached and sickly as he seemed in the first India outing-although I wish his hair was out of his eyes instead of blowing about all the time. When we can see his eyes and facial expressions, we know what’s on Sharpe’s mind, from threatening to carry a woman who won’t obey to almost killing the son of Obadiah Hakeswill. For one who isn’t supposed to have airs and graces, Sharpe does know how to be a diplomat to each of his charges. His protection of the women and his fatherly attachment to his young Ensign is Sharpe at his best. And amid all this, we even have some humor. Who knew Sharpe thought ‘Dick’ was a bad name until he heard ‘Barabbas’ was worse?

Not to be outdone, Daragh O’Malley still has great wit. Though painful, his bout with kidney stones is somehow amusing amid all the brooding and squinting. India must be super sunny! Harper is in many ways the moral conscience of Sharpe. Even though Sharpe has a mind of his own, sometimes it’s too much of a mind, and Harper knows how to keep the balance when necessary. I like now that rank isn’t an issue, Pat can call Sharpe Richard. It’s also ridiculous that these touching, serious character moments that make Sharpe’s Peril are the pieces there were edited out for the international 100-minute version. No religion, long lost family, even Sharpe reflecting on his daughter and the losses and costs of the soldier’s life- indeed the best parts of Peril- were cut from the PBS airing. For shame on the television powers that be for interfering with fine period performances!

At least we have plenty of fine ladies and villains to spice up Sharpe’s Peril. Beatrice Rosen (The Dark Knight, 2012) as Marie-Angelique and Caroline Carver (The Royal Today) as the pregnant Mrs. Tredinnick begin as opposites and warm wonderfully as their experience progresses. Likewise, Indian actress Nandana Sen (Prince) is more than the snooty princess we are led to believe. Though Velibor Topic (Holby Blue, Robin Hood) and Pascal Langdale (Lucy Sullivan is Getting Married) are meant as our double crossing baddies, longtime Sharpe antagonist Michael Cochrane almost steals the show as a sun crazed and somewhat reformed General Sir Henry Simmerson. It’s great fun to see him calling Sharpe, his long time disdain, ‘Though art my redeemer, sir. The sweetest name in all the world, sir.’ Deception and role reverses keep the peril in Peril. Steve Speirs (The Phantom Menace, The Musketeer) as Colour Wormwood is a great creep, and his ill led men give us plenty to be suspicious about, too. When the true colors-both good and bad-come out, it puts everyone in jeopardy. There are actually a lot of people to like and care for here. I would say too many (certainly more than any other Sharpe episode) but for more fine performances from David Robb (Elizabeth: The Golden Age, Highlander: The Series) as Major Tredinnick, Raza Jaffrey (MI-5) as his loyal student Lance Naik Singh, and Luke Ward-Wilkinson (Wild at Heart) as the youthful Ensign Beauclere taken under Sharpe’s wing.

Long time Sharpe director Tom Clegg knows how to handle the swashbuckling action and ensemble cast. We pick up where the prior India installment Sharpe’s Challenge leaves off, and the wit, action, and characters that made the classic Sharpe episodes so delightful are all here. Although this is an original script from house writer Russell Lewis, the touches of Bernard Cornwell’s prequel India trilogy are stilted in 1818. There is a little unevenness again due to the post-Waterloo movement in the timeline. Peril is a road movie with fine character explorations, but compared to other Sharpe episodes, nothing much happens. While not bad by any means, when looking at the new to India flash of Sharpe’s Challenge, Peril does seem floundering or sub par. Sometimes the audience, like Sharpe himself, might wonder what we are still doing in India. Together, this uneven India pair isn’t as good a conclusion to the series as Sharpe’s Waterloo temporarily was.

Although there’s more literary material to draw from and plenty of fuel left in the cast and crew’s tank, to laymen viewers it may seem as if this pair of films is grasping at former glory and success. American audiences who finally saw these latest Sharpe episodes on PBS complained that they were just violent, unworthy drivel. That kind of negative attitude perpetuates the step down in quality, creating poor ratings, less and less funding, and little or no American distribution. Besides that, where have these naysayers been for the first fifteen violent and juicy action episodes that Sharpe’s content was so shocking to them? Masterpiece Theatre did treat these newest episodes as if they were merely filler, editing the two part episodes down to ninety-minute installments. This lack of love didn’t do the series any services. Sharpe isn’t meant to be serious brain food, and sure Peril is not the best episode in the series. Having said that, this series is better than any of our absurd reality show obsessions- and there is some quality reading to have along with it. Sadly, with budget cuts and other difficulties at the British networks, it’s growing more and more likely that this series will not continue. I for one would like to see at least one more episode- perhaps based on Sharpe’s Devil or detailing Sharpe’s children. Give Sharpe the ambitious send off it deserves, not a disappointing American whimper.

Nevertheless, the producers have also been faithful to longtime viewers instead of remaking or rebooting and starting afresh with Cornwell’s beginning novels. Little touches in Peril and wit from Bean are part of what makes Sharpe such fun. Yes, the India changes and inconsistencies hamper Peril, but regular audiences will notice that when Sharpe is shot in the arm and an old scar is reopened- its really just a tongue in cheek covering up of Bean’s ‘100% Blade’ tattoo. The camaraderie is still there, old villains are not forgotten, and Peril does a fine job of honoring the past as much as it allows room for the players involved to grow on this treacherous journey.

The storyline may have its faults with India, but the look of Sharpe’s Peril is golden. Elephants, Hindi, Bengali, the ladies costumes both native and European-Peril’s set and dressings look more like a film then a nearly not financed television production. The score is also on form. I never thought I’d say I miss that horrible electric guitar rift from the earlier episodes, but the traditional Sharpe music underlies the proper score wonderfully. The ‘Over the Hills and Far Away’ lyrics are also used to full poignancy in one critical scene. Some of the accents might be tough to some, as there’s not just British, but French and Indian dialogue. At least there are subtitles. Although some Americans might be confused by Sharpe’s slang, I think its great fun to see nowt onscreen!

And oh by gosh, by golly Sharpe’s Peril is glorious on blu ray! There aren’t many other features, but the 25 minute making of documentary packs everything you’d ever want to know or even imagine about the behind the scenes happenings. Everything from how the Russian stunt men don’t speak English to a billiards tournament lost by Sean Bean. The insights from all the cast and crew are wonderful and full of fun little things to the Sharpe insider. Tom Clegg reckons this makes 34 hours of Sean Bean, Daragh O’Malley runs the betting on all their games, and yes ladies, they are still smoking-cigarettes that is! It’s a Sharpe fan’s delight, and I regret that I don’t yet have the DVD. Thus far, this is my only Sharpe movie review without screen captures!

Super youthful audiences might not appreciate the complexities here, and there is a touch of language and sexual suggestion, too, that might be a bit much. Sharpe fans, however, as well as lovers of the cast and period piece action, will enjoy the charm and reflection of Sharpe’s Peril. I also implore any naysayers to return to the original novels or the vintage Sharpe DVDs before writing off this series as dead and buried. Can we have just one more episode, pretty please?

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