TV miniseries/films reviews: Sharpe, based on the novels by Bernard Cornwell
Sharpe is a TV series about Richard Sharpe, a fictional British soldier in the Napoleonic Wars. For those of us who love to watch men in uniform saving ladies in low-cut dresses, it doesn’t get much better than this. Sean Bean plays Sharpe to perfection. I started watching this series after falling for the talented Mr. Bean in his role as Boromir in Lord of the Rings. I have watched 14 out of 16 episodes. After 14 seemed to be a natural stopping point since (1) the Napoleonic Wars ended, and (2) I found Sean in a lovely version of Lady Chatterley that made watching Sharpe somewhat superfluous. (Somewhat = Sgt. Harper / Daragh O’Malley is not in Lady Chatterley.) The production website has a wealth of information on the series, so I’m not going to do much rehashing. What follows is a list of some of the more enjoyable scenes, characters, and plot devices (including spoilers).
1. Sharpe’s Rifles
After Sharpe saves Sir Arthur Wellesley’s life, he is promoted from the ranks and immediately put into a skin-tight dark green uniform that accentuates his… differences from the commissioned officers. Sent into the Spanish mountains to command a team of riflemen, he is reviled by the officers (“not one of us”) and his band of merry men mutinies on him (“not a proper officer”). Highlights of this episode include:
Sharpe and Harper slug it out not once but twice!
Sharpe rigs up a homemade bomb and writes “do not enter” in French on the door of the barn where it is hidden. French soldiers pursuing them ignore the sign of course, and are blown sky-high.
Harper kills two French soldiers in quick succession, despite having only one bullet. This is one of my favorite scenes in the entire series. His grin after Sharpe chews him out just melts my heart.
Sharpe meets Teresa and beds her by the end of the episode. Dialogue implies that he has never loved anyone or received womanly favors other than in exchange for money. This is somehow believable, since it is only the first episode.
Sharpe disguises himself as a monk to figure out a mystery.
(Cooper: “Is that you in a dress, sir? VERY nice!”)
Major Hogan snorts a voluminous amount of snuff. At first I thought it was cocaine, but “research” (*cough* Wikipedia) corrected me, which was kind of a let down.
We also meet boy-soldier Perkins, company balladeer Hagman, ten-foot-tall Tongue, and Harris the amazingly literate debtor. None of whom we’d probably give the time of day just walking down the street, but since they’re in uniform here, YUM. Harris alternately helps Sharpe by translating something or pisses him off royally by being a smart-ass.
Harper: We don’t want to go south, sir.
Sharpe: And what the hell do I care what you and the lads want, eh? You think the British Army’s a bloody dem… dem…
Harris: Democracy, sir. Comes from the Greek word “demos” and means “rule by-”
Sharpe: Shut up, Harris!
2. Sharpe’s Eagle
Lots of men in uniform playing Capture the Flag. Sharpe secures his place in history by capturing a Napoleonic Eagle during battle. Sharpe’s mortal enemy Simmerson is introduced. Highlights of this episode include:
Sharpe busts the chops of Daniel Craig!
Sharpe teaches a company of raw recruits how to shoot three rounds a minute.
Major Hogan continues to snort snuff at an alarming rate and says many witty things in his lovely drawling accent.
Maj. Hogan (to Simmerson): You’ve lost the colours, sir. The king’s own colours, touched by his own hand. Take my advice, and a pistol, and go behind that tent, and blow out what’s left of your brains.
3. Sharpe’s Company
A low-point for Richard Sharpe in multiple ways: he has been demoted back to lieutenant! His wife and daughter are holed up in the city he is preparing to besiege! The Supremely Evil Obadiah Hakeswill has reappeared from his past!
Major Hogan (Brian Cox) is replaced by Major Nairn, Sir Arthur Wellesley (previously played by David Troughton and a nose) is now played by Hugh Fraser, and Tongue has disappeared, never to be seen again, very sad indeed. I guess those last three are more low points for me rather than Richard….
Obadiah Hakeswill is the main reason to watch: Pete Postlethwaite, may he rest in peace, overshadows everyone in this episode.
4. Sharpe’s Enemy
Otherwise known as “Hakeswill Returns.” Another fabulous character introduced in this episode: Capt. William Frederickson, a man who removes his glass eye, false teeth and wig before every battle. Has to be seen to be believed.
I hated this episode because it lowered my previous opinion of Sharpe’s character. Up until this point I was under the impression that he was a Man of Integrity, which turns out he decidedly is not. He beautifully tells Teresa that he could never be unfaithful to her, HOWEVER by the end of the episode he has slept with someone else! Granted, it’s Elizabeth Hurley, in the lowest-cut dress of the century, but PLEASE! Then Hakeswill kills Teresa and you would think Sharpe would learn a lesson from that irony but apparently not, he just pouts for a while.
They put man-child Perkins in a dress and lacy mob cap to trick a gate-keeper.
Perkins: Why can’t Harris wear the dress?
Sharpe: Harris hasn’t the figure for it.
5. Sharpe’s Honour
OOOOOH I really liked this one, it was very intriguing, had lots of spies and counter-intelligence, faked death, sword fighting, the Spanish Inquisition, what’s not to like?
Best new character: La Marquesa, who is a very naughty lady and very familiar-looking: it’s Sybil Gordon from Chariots of Fire, my first favorite period movie! I adore Alice Krige and hope to look and talk like her in a next life. Of course she and Sharpe…well they don’t show it, leaving me wondering, but how could I have doubted him?
Nairn: Did he interrogate [the Marquesa]?
Harper: Oh, he was at her all night, sir.
The best scene is Sharpe rescuing La Marquesa from a nunnery. He is attacked by a group of nuns in the kitchen and he defends himself with a chicken.
Hagman delivers Ramona’s baby. An amazingly talented bunch, those Chosen Men.
To be continued next Monday!