04 May 2008

Sharpe's 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.

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