01 July 2008

Sharpe's Justice

Sharpe’s Justice Uneven Back Story

By Kristin Battestella

After his Revenge and before Waterloo producers of the BBC’s Sharpe series tried one more time for an original episode. Taking pieces of Sharpe’s history from the Cornwell novels, writer Patrick Harbinson and director Tom Clegg present an uneven mix of Sharpe’s past, present, and future with Sharpe’s Justice.

Now that Napoleon is in exile in Elba, Major Sharpe (Sean Bean) is posted to his old Yorkshire haunts in support of mill owner Parfitt (Tony Haygarth) and his punky yeoman Wickham (Douglas Henshall). Fellow Yorkshire man Matt Truman (Philip Glenister), however, has inspired the factory workers and other poor townsfolk to rise up against the rich. Even homeless rifleman Daniel Hagman(John Tams) joins this cause. Sharpe is soon torn between friends from his past and the high society pressing him, including Lady Anne Camoynes (Caroline Langrishe) and his wayward wife Jane (Abigail Cruttenden).

It’s a lot to cover in one show; Sharpe’s family, the state of the war at home, Jane’s attempt to climb the social ladder. Despite its effort to show us where Sharpe came from, Sharpe’s Justice is not an introductory episode. Nor is it necessarily all about how Sharpe became Sharpe. We’ve watched twelve previous shows to witness that. Justice is also trying to tie up lose ends in what was then the second to last episode of the series. Hagman and ever present Sergeant Patrick Harper have their moments, and Richard finally confronts Jane about her leaving him and robbing him blind. Is Justice looking towards the old or setting up for the new? You make the call.

At last I have praise for Abigail Cruttenden as Jane. The high society she craved is not exactly what it seems, and in retrospect, life with Sharpe was a lot more passionate. Cruttenden is perfect now that Jane is put in her place and pouting at Sharpe. Bean also continues to shine through the internal conflicts of Richard Sharpe. He is uncomfortable with his past, more likely ashamed. As proud as Sharpe should be of all his accomplishments, he is also once again a man with out a place, a jilted soldier with no one but the wrong people to fight. I would have liked more from Glenister as the Matt Truman. He’s little more than a pot faced, toothless, cranky English guy. Karen Meagher as Sally Bunting is also the typical mousy type. They are cute and relate-able, but there could be deep moving characters here. Is this too much to expect from an original Sharpe movie? Maybe- but not from the novels.

After so many episodes of war in Spain and Portugal, it is however a pleasant treat to see Regency England again. The down trodden villages are perhaps small scale, but the dirty and dark looks contrast perfectly with the lush and pomp of the rich mansions and estates. The candlelight in Justice is done perfectly. It’s dark in the low pubs, the only source of light and heat; yet it is also elegant and bright amid party parlors and chandeliers. I must also say that Sharpe and Harper look smashing on horseback. The beautiful animals and wooded locales give Justice a fine touch. We do see a bit of what Sharpe has been fighting for all these years-yes the pomp of England, but also the lovely country itself and a people in need of hope.

Sharpe’s Justice doesn’t get super deep or serious, but since when does that stop one’s enjoyment of this show? There’s plenty of action, romance, and period drama, even if Justice never decides what direction it’s really taking. It’s as if Revenge, Justice, and Waterloo are meant as one film in three parts. Each gets us one step closer to the end while honoring this crazy Napoleonic ride we’ve been on. The DVDs are available in box set or as part of the complete collection. Justice is not the place to introduce a new viewer to Sharpe, but it’s a must for any Sharpe enthusiast.

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