27 May 2008

Sharpe's 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.

Sharpe's Escape

Sharpe’s Escape Novel As Juicy As The TV Series
By Kristin Battestella
Having seen the BBC’s Sharpe television movies before I discovered the books by Bernard Cornwell, some of the written twists and turns have shocked me-and others not so much. 2004’s Sharpe’s Escape, however, has not had the privilege of being filmed for television. Although influenced by the films’ style and take on Sharpe, Escape is still an intelligent and historical must read.
Sharpe's Escape: Richard Sharpe & the Bussaco Campaign, 1810 (Richard Sharpe's Adventure Series #10)This time around, Richard Sharpe must protect displaced English governess Sarah Fry from the Portuguese swindler Ferragus while Wellington’s army allies with these same Portuguese to defend Bussaco. Sharpe of course, is yet again on the outs with his snotty superior officers.
In addition to the witty and battlefield smart Sharpe, Cornwell has developed television-introduced riflemen Harris and Perkins in Escape. Harper is not necessarily the sidekick here, more Sharpe’s equal as far as officers and enlisted men can be equal. His observant eye and strongman abilities are essential to Sharpe in this escapade; and of course, Patrick also gets some loving with the ladies here. At first I didn’t like the prim schoolteacher Sarah Fry. She’s meant to be uppity and snotty, but getting down and dirty with Richard has her singing a different tune.

I’m reading the Sharpe novels as I’m able to find them, since I’m too cheap to order them all online. I read Gold before Eagle, then Escape. In the years since he began Sharpe, Cornwell has had much success, both with this series and others. This has allowed him more leeway in the writing of Sharpe. I don’t much care for the Ferragus’ point of view here. He’s creepy, rapacious, yadda, yadda. Of course we need his perspective to know the timeline of events away from Sharpe, but honestly I could careless. I enjoy the tighter earlier novels that are exclusively about Sharpe and his struggles with himself, the enemy, and his superiors. Cornwell has also indulged himself in his action and battle scenes. Escape is divided into three parts, and the novel is double the size of its chronological predecessor, Sharpe’s Gold, which was written in 1981. Escape is 350 pages. By contrast, the twenty first book Sharpe’s Fury was published in 2006 and is 400 pages long.

These are relatively small quibbles in the context of Escape. Although, the story is also a bit preposterous; Richard’s escape through a loaded sewer naked with a woman clinging to him. It’s humorous, yet played very genuine. Even Sharpe has to laugh at the absurdity of his situations. Escape is a little full of itself, and this is in the spirit of the television series, not the original novels. Am I complaining? No.
Some fans of the telefilms may not consider Sharpe’s Escape simply because it is a book not turned into a movie-spirit of the films rather than the books aside. I would urge those to reconsider. It’s a shame the series has already moved on from this point, and it would take much contriving to ever film Escape. Nevertheless, the book is a fine read that should not missed.

20 May 2008


Why No Love for Newsies?

By Kristin Battestella

Sure now everyone loves High School Musical, but in 1992 you were a social pariah if you adored choreographer Kenny Ortega’s directorial debut Newsies. Still one of Disney’s lowest grossing live action films ever, Newsies has quietly become a popular underground film.

Things are not at rest in New York, 1899. When Media mogul Joseph Pulitzer (Robert Duvall) raises the price of his New York World to the ‘distribution populace’-that would be the poor, orphaned, street-wise newsies- newsboy leader Jack Kelly (Christian Bale) takes charge. Along with educated newcomer David (David Moscow) and his brother Les (Luke Edwards), Jack leads the newsies to strike against Pulitzer. With the help of newsman Brian Denton (Bill Pullman); vaudeville singer Medda (Ann-Margaret); and chief Brooklyn newsie Spot Conlon (Gabriel Damon), the newsies may just have their voices heard.

In his one and only musical, Christian Bale does not disappoint. Sure everyone loves him now after American Psycho, Batman Begins, and 3:10 to Yuma among other independent gems, but Bale shows his potential here. Before Newsies, Bale had never sung nor danced, but here he does both wonderfully-and puts on a turn of the century New York accent. Duvall, Pullman, and Ann-Margaret are having a good time as the supporting adults, and I do love them, but it is an injustice that any mention of Newsies bills the grown ups before Bale. The movie rises and falls with him and the rest of the newsboys. Max Casella (Doogie Howser, M.D.) almost steals the show as wise cracking, hoofing newsie Racetrack. David Moscow hasn’t done much in Hollywood since Newsies, but he’s worthy as his same named character. Some of the kids are annoying or ones I could do without, but it’s also fun to see what became of the spotlight newsies. Aaron Lohr (Mush) went on to Mighty Ducks fame, and Trey Parker (Kid-Blink) co created South Park. Who knew?

Yes, Newsies is a musical. When Disney chose three scripts with the possibility of turning one into a musical, Newsies was probably the wrong choice. The music isn’t all bad. Popular composer JAC Redford (What the Deaf Man Heard) crafted some very sing-a-long-able tunes. The lyrics are period authentic, yet modern and funny. The boys don’t sing that bad and the dancing is alright. It just seems odd to sing about a strike. I can’t imagine the process was easy for choreographer turned director Ortega (Dirty Dancing)- orchestrating massive dance numbers and choirs and fight scenes with hundreds of kids fifty years after Oklahoma!. Newsies genuinely tries, but there’s too much humor and music against not enough development and drama.

Based on actual events, Newsies stretches a thin premise too thin. We get to know each newsie, we find what makes each one tick against the melancholy circumstances, but scriptwriting team Bob Tzudiker (The Lion King) and Noni White (The Hunchback of Notre Dame) don’t take the depth far enough. Was this the ill advised mix of musical and drama or Disney’s questions on weather to keep things juvenile or go for maturity? Perhaps a little of both. Again in 1992, no one knew you could make an adult oriented, seriously dramatic musical. As much as I love Newsies for the camp of it, I would love to see a really heavy drama full of debates. Christian Bale versus Robert Duvall! Bring it!

The DVD of Newsies is full of fun stuff. As unloved as the film was, Disney politely added behind the scenes features and on set clips, along with historical information about the real 1899 strike, fun newsie dialogue games, and even a sing a long feature. Good as this all is, it would have been utterly incredible to have the older, wiser cast and crew reflect upon the good, the bad, and the ugly that is Newsies.

Newsies would have made a fine straight drama for juvenile audiences. Stand up for what you believe in and all that inspiration. Unfortunately, Newsies was a big screen musical release when big screen musical releases were absolutely unheard of. You have to wonder, if Newsies was released today straight to the Disney channel, would it be as big a bust as it was then? Why doesn’t Disney show the movie on its networks and see what happens? It’s strange to say, but did dorks like me who watched Newsies and similar period music films like Swing Kids grow up to take part in our recent re-acceptance of musicals like Moulin Rouge!, The Phantom of the Opera, and Chicago? Friends and family that endured my 214 viewings (I’ve only watched it twice since I got the DVD, and hey, the other 212 was a bet I won.) would scoff at these notions. Newsies has the talent, the choreography, period piece vibes, even not so bad songs, but should all these elements really be together in this movie? No.

Fans of period pieces and musicals will most likely enjoy Newsies. If you can convince hip High School Musical loving kids to watch Newsies late at night when no one knows they’ve watched it, they will enjoy it, too. Bale fans no doubt own this DVD already. Newsies is far from perfect, but it’s a quality family film that dared to do something different-just like its striking newsboys.


Dust A Modern, Worthy Western

By Kristin Battestella

If I say my favorite character in The Lord of the Rings is Faramir, the answer I receive isn’t “Oh! I love him, too!” Or “I can’t believe they changed him from the book!” No it’s usually, “Who?” If Faramir is so under appreciated, what does that say for his actor? Beloved Australian actor David Wenham is so little known in the US, I’ve had to search long and hard online for Region 1 DVDs then wait weeks for them to arrive.

Such was the case with Dust. The 2001 western also starring Joseph Fiennes (Shakespeare in Love) was only $6 on Overstock. Cheap and I’ve always loved westerns! Besides, it looked good-and more importantly-was a Region 1 release. Three weeks later, when at last the DVD was out of the mailer and into my laptop, my first shock was that it wasn’t a tale of the Australian west. This is the American west, yet it takes place is contemporary New York City. Stay with me!

We open with Edge (Adrian Lester) a down on his luck hood who’s breaking into someone’s apartment. The crone inside (Rosemary Murphy) however is much more than Edge bargained for. The feisty old woman holds Edge at gunpoint and tells him a story. If Edge wants her wealth and hidden gold-he is going to listen to Angela’s tale of the old west. When cowboy brothers Luke (David Wenham) and Elijah (Joseph Fiennes) both fall for Lilith (Anne Brochet) trouble brews. Seeking thrill and adventure, Luke travels to Turkey and becomes a mercenary in the Ottoman War-ever trying to escape gospel sprouting Elijah.

Both storylines presented by director Milcho Manchevski (Before The Rain) seem simple and overplayed at face value. Young black guy and white old woman bond over feuding cowboy brother love story. Yadda, yadda, yadda. Strange it is, though, that these two types of stories are together in one film. The flashbacks, humor, and characters break the time and place divides between them, and the action moves seamlessly between events. It seems almost absurd to start, but once belief is suspended, you become invested in the characters. You simply must see how these stories conclude.

Naturally you can’t go along with people you don’t like. David Wenham’s Luke is the main character of the film, yet his dialogue is next to nothing. Strangely Joseph Fiennes is billed first even though he’s only a handful of critical scenes. In most cases, Crone’s narration speaks for them both. Occasionally annoying as narrators are, Angela’s voiceover here makes her own storyline better-and it saves us from Wenham’s odd American accent. He tries, but it’s somehow off; a mix between Southern, Texan, and set back one hundred years. Wenham, however, excels in facial expressions, and his non-vocal performance speaks more than most. Not just in looks and glares, but physically Wenham takes on the rough cowboy bumps and bruises and pains. You look at Luke and just know that had to hurt. Wenham’s heart and soul is onscreen, and regardless of what you’ve seen him in previously he is Luke here.

Pleasantly surprising in Dust is Adrian Lester (Hustle) as Edge. He excels beyond his witty dialogue and sarcastic remarks. I must admit I know nothing of him, but his banter with ‘Crone’-the nickname he gives Angela, the physical action and pain, he's a great tough guy mixed with despair. It’s not tough to see how the parallels between Edge and Luke come about. Both characters end up different from where they started. The relationships between Luke and Lilith and Edge and Angela do not take the traditional road. It’s odd that Dust was hyped as a western romance on the cover when in fact very little romance or Old West action takes place. Am I complaining? No.

One sore spot in Dust is Joseph Fiennes. His work prior in Shakespeare in Love and Enemy at the Gates has not impressed me, nor has he here. Where his real life brother Ralph Fiennes takes on varied roles and genres (The English Patient, Red Dragon, Harry Potter), Joseph seems to play the same one dimensional character over and over. Elijah is supposed to be a God fearing wronged husband with a vendetta against his brother, but we don’t see that in what little we see of him. With a different angle on the script from Manchveski, Dust could very well be Elijah’s movie. As it stands, Elijah is the very definition of a supporting character-merely reacting to Luke’s courses of action.

On the other hand, Dust’s small supporting cast does a fine job; The crooked cops chasing Edge, the Ottoman mercenaries and army leaders on both sides. They look the part. Anne Brochet is pretty run of the mill as Lilith, but Nikolina Kujaca’s portrayal of the pregnant guerilla wife Neda is beautiful, exotic, graceful, and poised.

Dust brings to light an obscure part of history for me. Truly, had I known the movie was more about the Ottoman wars, I might not have tuned in. The Old West scenes are standard and brief enough, but they serve their purpose. Where Dust really sells itself is in the contemporary New York abode of Edge and Angela. It’s odd to say, but the New York City captured in Dust no longer exists-the pre September 11th city. Today we like to paint New York as a new and rebuilt, revitalizing the American Way! Dust, however, captures what many New Jersey folk like myself thought of New York pre 9/11; Dirty, dark, heinous violence and crime. Edge is every bit a child of his society, as Angela is hers. We want to see her pass the torch to him before it is too late. We want Edge-the violent offender in the film’s opening scene-to make it. The storylines come through and circle together. I suspect it’s where the title comes from; ashes to ashes, dust to dust. And hey, while I’m on a sappy note, Dust does offer a few handsome shots of the World Trade Center.

Dust’s European scenes were filmed on location, and Manchveski succeeds in setting up his exotic locales and foreign conflicts. The action is unfortunately a bit confusing sometimes. When we first meet our friends and foes in Turkey, it’s tough to tell who is who. Perhaps a few characterizations are not politically correct today, but it’s a movie dramatizing a specific time, and Edge’s commentary on the past events keeps things light hearted. Manchveski’s interview and behind the scenes features on the DVD also shed light on the story, characters, and locales; Seeing his thoughts and philosophies add to this unusual tale. Unfortunately, there’s not much else to supplement the DVD, but with a film such as Dust-where performance and story are more important than action-there isn’t much to add. Dust speaks for itself-no extras needed.

I’ve seen far more avant-garde films, but fans of the offbeat, period piece, or artsy film should pick up Dust at the first chance you can get. The violence and sexual situations are not meant for children, and guys looking for chicks won’t find them here. David Wenham fans have no doubt already discovered this movie, but for American audiences looking for a film with substance, Dust is a must see.

05 May 2008

The Three Musketeers (1993)

Three Musketeers Always Good Fun
By Kristin Battestella

Who doesn’t love a swashbuckling fun adventure movie? Before Disney struck platinum with Pirates of The Caribbean, the studio won the hearts of young and old with 1993’s The Three Musketeers. With an all-star cast, fine story, and all the 16th century action one could ask for, The Three Musketeers hasn’t lost any of its charm.

This take on Alexandre Dumas’ classic tale begins with the young D’Artagnan (Chris O’Donnell) and his quest to join the musketeers while avenging his father and earning a reputation for himself. Unfortunately, vile Cardinal Richelieu (Tim Curry) has disbanded the King’s musketeers. D’Artagnan unites with three former musketeers: tormented Athos (Kiefer Sutherland), comedian Porthos (Oliver Platt), and priest turned lover Aramis (Charlie Sheen) in order to stop the crooked Cardinal and his accomplice Lady De Winter (Rebecca De Mornay) in their plot to secretly ally with the English and assassinate King Louis (Hugh O’Conor). 

The Three Musketeers

Without its ensemble cast, The Three Musketeers would most definitely fail. Earlier versions are perhaps now too old for young folks, and the more recent The Musketeer falls on its dark story and talent-less unknowns. Disney’s production shines with its all around performers. Comedic moments come from each star, even former eighties villain Sutherland (The Lost Boys, now of 24 fame). Likewise, humorous and slick moments come from the delightful Tim Curry (The Rocky Horror Picture Show) as Richelieu. Gabrielle Anwar (The Tudors) always seems perfect in period pieces, and her Queen Anne here fits the bill.

Chris O’Donnell’s star may have fallen with duds like The Bachelor and Batman and Robin, but here he is perfectly cast as the feisty, wide-eyed D’Artagnan. The titular musketeers also have incredible chemistry and onscreen timing with O’Donnell, and regular baddie Michael Wincott (The Crow) is up to the task as their nemesis Rocheford.

Although some may like a more serious musketeer take, The Three Musketeers finds the balance between humor and drama. There’s enough sword fights with snide comments and action tricks with punch lines for the kids-particularly from the on form Oliver Platt as Porthos. The twisted love story between Athos and double agent Rebecca De Mornay, however, adds a serious element to the production.

Today’s actors look so ‘dress up’ in historical films, but the elder cast here brings acting chops and a look for medieval France. The script by David Loughery (Tom and Huck) works with director Stephen Herek’s (The Mighty Ducks) action. There’s old, fanciful speech and straight historical production touched with anachronistic quips. Traditionalists may not like some of the juvenile fun, but this is a Disney live action film.

The Three Musketeers also wins on its design and visual values. The ladies look lovely in their generally accurate gowns, and the action scenes are no slouch. Ambitious multilevel sword fights and chase sequences still look top of the line almost fifteen years later. And remember, there’s no fanciful Lord of the Rings computer images, but Musketeers’ locations and fight choreography still hold merit. Ironically Rings sword master Bob Anderson also choreographed the sword work here.

Another selling point of The Three Musketeers is its sweet score by Award winning composer Michael Kamen (Mr. Holland Opus just to name one). Helped to box office success by the hit single All for One by Bryan Adams, Rod Stewart, and Sting; the song’s melody highlights the instrumentals throughout the picture. There’s nothing an audience can get behind more than a rousing anthem for its onscreen heroes.

As good fun as The Three Musketeers is, one negative is in fact all that goodness. I don’t know how to not seem confusing and contradictory, but after repeated viewings, Disney’s humor, light hearted moments, and nicely wrapped ending can begin to loose their weight. Perhaps The Three Musketeers suffers from too much of a good thing. Like Disney has overkilled its Pirates franchise in the 21st Century, some adults forced on marathon viewings with their kids might find The Three Musketeers a bit overexposed across the board.

Unfortunately, I don’t know how accurate the story is to the book-although The Three Musketeers is almost like Dracula in its familiarity to audiences. Strangely, Dumas’ source novel is one of the rare books that I have sought and ended up putting down partway through. I love every film version of The Three Musketeers from Fairbanks to Michael York’s Three Musketeers and Four Musketeers vehicles in the seventies. I’m not a DiCaprio fan, but the 1998 The Man in The Iron Mask is a mature take that is tough to beat. I even adore Dumas’ Count of Monte Crisco book, but the Musketeers novel fell completely flat for me.

Not everyone today would like the silent Man in The Iron Mask, and kids today might find the aforementioned Oliver Reed, Charlton Heston, and Faye Dunaway 1974 releases hysterical for its heady hijinks and colorful production. Disney’s Musketeers is the perfect introduction piece for a new generation and still enjoyable enough for fans of old.
Parents may want to watch the film without the kids first and check up on the sexual innuendo and implied romances. For young ones still in the coodies age, the lovey dovey scenes and PG sexual remarks might be too much. Character deaths and scary action sequences might also be tough for sensitive children. Concerned parents can scout television listings for an edited airing, but in this day and age, there isn’t really anything in The Three Musketeers with which tweens aren’t familiar. If your kids are Pirates of The Caribbean fans, this film is mild in comparison.

The Three Musketeers is an oft told story worthy of your family’s attention. Take a night in with the 1993 Disney adaptation for the young and old.

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.

Sharpe's 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.

Sharpe's 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.