19 March 2008

Sharpe's 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 his 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, 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.

ETA: Please see the comments below for our analysis of the Battle novel.

1 comment:

Kristin Snouffer said...

Sharpe’s Battle A Novel Return to Form
By Kristin Battestella

After taking a gander at Bernard Cornwell’s recent Sharpe India trilogy, I received Sharpe’s Battle as a gift and returned to where I left off in the series’ chronology. Though written in 1995, later than the original core of novels, Battle returns Sharpe to 1811 Spain.

As in the telefilm of the same name, Sharpe and Harper must baby sit Lord Kiely and the unwanted and unprepared Royal Irish Company-a gift from the disposed King Ferdinand. Irish and English relations are further disturbed by Kiely’s mistress Juanita, and French Bridagier Loup makes life extremely difficult for Sharpe.

Naturally, the written Sharpe’s Battle differs from the 1995 film in several ways. Lord Kiely is not married in the novel, and just how down and dirty Sharpe gets with Juanita is very tongue and cheek here. We spend more time with General Runciman and Father Skarsfield, and in addition to Irish unrest, we have religious debate as well. I enjoyed the behind the scenes games of Major Ducos and the severity of the written Loup. In addition to strong characters, Cornwell’s writing for Sharpe’s Battle is on form. Battle is dedicated to Sharpe film star Sean Bean, and Cornwell’s return to the writing here is not as lazy and tired as it becomes in other later, seemingly obligated novels. I’ve read Battle out of order from where it belongs between the poor Sharpe’s Fury and the stellar Sharpe’s Company-but it’s not noticeably out of place like 2004’s Escape and 2006’s Fury. We have television Rifleman Harris and Perkins, sure, but they don’t take over from Richard and his latest issues.

I was a little annoyed again by the big final battle conclusion, I have to say. The 350-page book is divided into two parts, but Part 2 comes with 100 pages left. Again, we have a little too lopsided an ending where more random battle action and nameless soldiers take away from Sharpe-who doesn’t have much of a place in the battle anyway. He doesn’t get his showdown with Loup until the last twenty pages! Yes, I love the detail, authenticity, and historical accuracy from Cornwell, but I am very tempted to skip over pages where he has omnipresent action for action’s sake. Why should I care about a random French officer telling a butchering surgeon to shut the hell up? In some ways, the telefilm is more personnel by not showcasing the battle at Fuentes de Onoro. Sharpe is stuck solving everyone’s problems instead of being forced into a personal niche in a big battle.

Sharpe’s Battle goes deeper and delves into more darkness than the eponymous film. It’s not as personal as earlier Sharpe novels, but Battle fills a critical gap in Sharpe’s chronology. Fans of the series will no doubt enjoy. My only trouble is what to read next!