11 March 2008

Sharpe's 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.

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