16 May 2010

Sharpe's Fortress

Sharpe’s Fortress Imperfect, but A Fine Exit from India
By Kristin Battestella

Once again, I’ve stopped and started on another Sharpe novel from Bernard Cornwell.  Sometimes I frustrate myself if I realize I’ve been reading the same book for over a month when I used to read a book a week.  Is that a statement on the busy lifestyle and replacement of reading as priority in today’s society or the sign of a less than stellar written yarn?  Nevertheless, here I am still reading about young Dickie Sharpe in Sharpe’s Fortress

Colonel William Dodd and his Cobras unit have taken refuge in the far-flung and nearly impenetrable fortress of Gawilghur escaping the battle of Aragaum. Angry and displaced Ensign Richard Sharpe, however, has revenge on his mind.  Raised from the ranks for saving Sir Arthur Wellesley’s life, Sharpe doesn’t fit in with his new regiment and has plans to kill the renegade Dodd.  Unfortunately, vile Sergeant Obadiah Hakeswill and his ruthless Captain Morris also have it in for Sharpe. 

Sharpe's FortressAlthough 1999’s Sharpe’s Fortress is a satisfying conclusion to Bernard Cornwell’s prequel trilogy, this third India novel suffers from the same troubles as its predecessors Sharpe’s Tiger and Sharpe’s Triumph(Why do I feel like I’ve said that before?) The head hopping, weak villainous viewpoints, and absentee battle narration again dominate Fortress.  Personal strides that we make with Wellesley and Sharpe take a backseat to omnipresent explanations about Gawilghur.   I must say it’s also odd that after two titles that begin with a T (and the next book chronologically in the series begins with a T, too) Fortress seems a little on the outs with its odd F.  I don’t really know what else it could have been called, but psychologically again this gives me the feeling that these books might have been better served with a good edit as two books instead of three. 

Yes, the character of William Dodd by nature doesn’t have a lot of character; he’s a louse hoping to rule India via the blood of others. Unfortunately, his thinly veiled villainy and unlike-ability doesn’t help me care about Dodd’ point of view.  This isn’t called Dodd’s Fortress, yet it feels like we’ve spent a long half of the book with him.  We’ve spent most of the trilogy with Dodd’s overreaching presence, and then he exits in less than a page.  Huh?  Not only does Fortress have to conclude itself, but also there has to be some restitution for the trilogy.  Sharpe’s initial reason for pursing Dodd-the massacre at Chasalgaon- is never even mentioned.  Ironically, with all this head-hopping going on, we actually don’t get any thoughts on Dodd’s departure from Dodd.  A splendid conclusion could have forgiven the limpness of the character, but alas, this weak villain is put out to pasture too weakly.

We know and love to hate Obadiah Hakeswill as a far better lecherous and realistic villain, but his treatment is also uneven.  Absent for gaps of pages at a time, we simply don’t spend enough time with the murderous sergeant to care on his plot.  Even when he attacks Sharpe, robs him, sets him up, and leaves him for dead-it’s forgotten until the final pages of Fortress.  After almost three books with a relatively minor role, the big conclusion is supposed to be with him? Similar but different to Dodd, Hakeswill’s fate is also a little too iffy.  We know he survives the deadly snake pit Fortress leaves him in- but a deadly snake pit seems pretty conclusive on, you know, the deadly part. If you didn’t already know Hakewsill’s claims of cheating death or his wicked deeds in 1984’s Sharpe’s Enemy, you’d think his implied survival here too far towards deus ex machina.

Yes, yes, I complain.  Why bother to read the series if the action is ill-paced among lesser and lesser villains? Because I like Richard Sharpe, that’s why, and he’s great here as always.  It’s delightful to see Sharpie as an ensign, since the television series skips this rank for the most part- and understandably so.  It’s an odd rank, isn’t it? Sharpe is an officer in between- no longer in the ranks, but not really any officer of note-much less a respectable gentlemen officer befitting the young and wealthy position of an ensign.  He’s little more than a baggage man and flag boy despite his age and fighting skill.  It’s wonderful to see Sharpe get what he thought he wanted- and then find out how the grass isn’t greener.  There’s anger, conflict, man versus man when he doesn’t fit in, and man versus himself when Sharpe debates what he wants from the army and in life.  This is how you build character, people! 

It’s also lovely to see how Sharpe got his distinctive facial scar.  The allusions of transferring to the new Rifles green jacket division are also a fine touch.  I hope there’s more to this for the follow up Sharpe’s Trafalgar.  These hints at the earlier books and the Sharpe that is to come satisfy the end of Fortress, but I wish we didn’t have to wait literally to the last page for the resolution.  Gawilghar is claimed; Sharpe beats the bads, and walks into the sunlight literally with the back cover to spare.  Charges that might be brought against him for striking a superior officer, the telescope that Wellesley will give him, friends’ burials that Sharpe wishes to uphold-all these distinctive touches are left out.  It makes an uneven read for Sharpe’s Fortress, with an overlong opening, a villainous middle, and a rushed battle ending.  Just because the action is resolved, doesn’t mean the characters are.  In a well-planned trilogy, there should be room enough for both.

Although some of the newer Sharpe novels are better than others are, this India Trilogy as a whole is a fine nod as to how Sharpe became Sharpe.  Readers and super fans of the Napoleonic fiction might be reluctant to continue here, but lovers of old time India tales can enjoy Sharpe’s FortressThese three books have their ups and downs yes, but loyal readers can find what they are looking for in this prequel trio.  New fans can indeed begin their chronological Sharpe adventures here. 

15 May 2010

The Spy Who Loved Me

The Spy Who Loved Me One of Bond’s Best
By Kristin Battestella

I took a break from Bond over the winter, which was unusual, actually.  Every year, there used to be a Bond marathon over Thanksgiving, making the opening notes to ‘Nobody Does it Better’ almost a holiday tune.  Fortunately, one needs not a holiday to spend some time with the very fine The Spy Who Loved Me.

The Spy Who Loved MeAfter a British nuclear submarine disappears, 007 James Bond (Roger Moore) is sent to Egypt to meet the seller of plans to a new secret tracking device commissioned by Karl Stromberg (Curt Jurgens), a Swedish shipping baron living on a submarine called Atlantis. He has webbed hands, pet sharks, and is bent on flooding the world and rebuilding civilianization under the sea.  Unfortunately for Bond, a Russian submarine has also disappeared, and MI-6 leader M (Bernard Lee) agrees to work with the Soviets to find Stromberg’s super Liparus tanker.  Bond must collaborate with the beautiful but deadly Major Anya Amasova (Barbara Bach), codenamed ‘Agent XXX’.  Since he is responsible for her boyfriend’s death, XXX tries to remain oblivious to 007’s charms and plans to kill Bond when the mission is through. Stromberg’s seven foot henchman Jaws (Richard Kiel), however, is in pursuit of the pair with deadly intentions all his own.

Well, there just might not be a sweeter pre-title sequence exit than The Spy Who Loved Me’s Union Jack parachute-and it’s followed by even kinkier opening titles.  The fan boys must be in heaven with all that jiggle, those chicks in nothing but boots and Soviet hats sure tame the face of Roger Moore!  Is that nude gymnastics on a gun barrel?  Of course, Carly Simon’s non-titular tune (the series’ first) is probably the most memorable Bond music next to the 007 theme.  Not only is the song in its opening entirety a delight, but it’s great how the medley plays throughout the picture in different instruments and styles, from charming Italian strings to vavavavoom brass.  However, on a down note, I could do without that discofied Bond 77 theme.

Director Lewis Gilbert (the fine You Only Live Twice but also the clunker Moonraker), house writer Richard Maibaum, and new screenwriter Christopher Wood springboard from Ian Fleming in title only and create a tight yarn of spy games, sex appeal, and Sea World gone awry.  Yes, we have plot pieces akin to Star Wars with the ‘stolen data tapes’ scenario and of course the built in aquatic connections to Jaws; but The Spy Who Loved Me borrows these and pieces from previous Bond films and ups the anti.  The unfinished statement about Bond’s late wife and his clipped reaction to the matter does beautifully what On Her Majesty’s Secret Service could not.  The innuendo, quips, and double entrees are on form. The uneasy alliance between 007 and XXX is great fun.  Not only are their names kind of a fun wordplay- triple trumps double, you know- but you can tell Bond doesn’t like having a woman as his equal, partner, or competition.  Yet he seems to enjoy the chase and business excuse to tame such a babe. The interference and cat and mouse from each ups the bedroom anti-not to mention the mission at hand.  The conclusion here is a akin to the finale of You Only Live Twice underwater; but again The Spy Who Love Me does the scenario better.  Its underwater spectacles trump those of Thunderball, too. 

How about those, uh, interrogation techniques by Roger Moore in his third outing as Our Man James? Great quips, strength, vitality- Bond uses the same skill and charm on a villain as he does while bedding the babes and it is oh so good.  This has to be Moore’s best outing as Bond. We have his suave, lover boy style and witty jokes; but there’s a seriousness, heavy element, and depth that Moore didn’t have previously.  The Spy Who Loved Me is bigger; epic even in scope and action, but Moore keeps the personal along with the spy game at hand.  Bond’s conflicted just a bit about working with XXX, he’s mixing his business with pleasure much more than usual, but his killing of Sergei Barsov (Michael Billington, UFO) doesn’t seem to be a big deal to him.  At last we have some multi-dimensional to Moore’s Bond instead of just babes and quips. He can love, make allegiances, even regret and keep his cool exterior.  Who knew?  It’s a pity we have more clunkers in his tenure than greats, but even alone The Spy Who Loved Me makes the case for Moore as Bond.  

It’s a little weird that villain Karl Stromberg prefers undersea life and living to people-so much so that he intends to nuke the surface civilization -but he does have a sweet submarine. Curt Jurgens (And God Created Woman) makes the notion seem scary, yes, but also juicy and fun. Stromberg also gets his share of kink by letting his sharks have a deadly feasting over his disloyal lady friend (Marilyn Galsworthy, Backs to the Land). The claustrophobic filming angles mixed with wide seascape shots also visually allude to Stromberg’s intentions.  The sea seems so pretty and peaceful with the relaxing classical scoring, but we know there’s a lot of megalomania brewing in both the sub and Stromberg’s plotting. Richard Kiel- who would return for the subsequent Moonraker- as the aptly named Jaws is somehow both fantastic and also realistically terrifying.  His size, silent pursuit, and vicious bite are preposterous but no less ruthless.

Yes, some of the seventies styles are still back, but maybe Barbara Bach’s Agent Triple X is just that hawt.  Mrs. Ringo Starr’s effortless hair, sexy styles, and vixen charisma still look good thirty years on, and Anya Amasova matches Bond wit for wit.  At last a well-rounded lady who’s completely critical to the plot and not just brief eye candy!  Then again, let’s not forget Caroline Munro (The Adominable Dr. Phibes, Captain Kronos Vampire Hunter, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad). You know Bond is thinking about Naomi for more than just her badass sea, air, and land skills. We also get a little more relaxed and out of the office with Bernard Lee as M, and briefly meet his future successor in the role, Robert Brown as Admiral Hargreaves.  Of course Desmond Llewelyn’s Q balances out the kink and seriousness with fine explanations and humorous cut offs from Bond-and we actually hear him called by his name, Major Boothroyd! That almost makes up for a little less Miss Moneypenny, but Lois Maxwell is always a doll.

The Egyptian styles, locales, and of course the pyramids looks timeless and authentic in The Spy Who Loved Me.  The pyramid show lighting is somewhat garish, but this mix with the lofty scoring and narration adds an atmospheric filming scheme for the action at hand.   More importantly, the blend between what’s Egyptian real and studio fake is almost indistinguishable.  Jaws’ stunts are also very well done, from the Egyptian shake up to the fast, sexy, and dangerous train battle. Although almost everything in The Spy Who Loved Me holds up, I don’t think all the vehicles and gadgets have stood the test of time.  I mean, why that dang Lotus?  Yes it was a hip car then, but not nearly as timeless as the Aston Martin.  At least this Lotus had sweet underwater capabilities! 

It’s nice that USA Network, Universal HD, and other assorted cable channels are bringing Bond to the masses, but all the dang commercials and trimmings take away a lot of 007 goodness, too.  Though claiming to air Bond uncut, slivers are made on Universal HD, and the infomercial laden commercial breaks are extremely long.  Even if it’s a film I know, I actually forget where the film left off before the break!  I can see how a lot of people probably skip right over these channels because you don’t go by and find Bond.  Familiar fans can enjoy a little 007 background television, but seeing bits missing can be very irksome, too.  Casual fans and newcomers to the franchise should stick with DVDs and blu-ray.  Of course, here’s one of Bond’s best, and yet The Spy Who Loved Me isn’t available on blu-ray.  Typical!

The Spy Who Loved Me is one of the finest Bond pictures, combing all that is good in Bond with top-notch story, action, and mainstream appeal.  For those who think Moore’s tenure was overlong and mostly hogwash, I implore you to reconsider with this one.  After all, ‘Nobody Does It Better’.  Okay, I apologize for that one, but I couldn’t help myself! 


13 May 2010

Pathetic Action Movies We Love

Pathetic Action Flicks We Love
By Kristin Battestella

Navy SealsThere are those dynamite, effects laden and car chased filled blockbuster action thrillers of which we just can’t get enough.  Story, performance, and the whole lot- honestly, what’s not to love?  However, we’re not talking about those gems today.  Admit it.  You have been up at 2 a.m. watching some crappy-ass, low budget, dated yarn that you’ve got no business of viewing once-let alone ten times.  My friends, celebrate these woefully badass bad action flicks unashamed!

Chain of Command – I’ve only recently stumbled upon this 2000 political thriller thanks to its seemingly ceaseless runnings on cable.  The cast is a-okay, if too nineties.  Roy Scheider (Jaws) as a slick President-to-be I can accept, cool as cool Michael Biehn (The Terminator), too- but our hero is Melrose Place and Starship Troopers sleaze Patrick Muldoon? Huh?  The scenario is a little too preposterous, too, and the production values are way too low budget.  And yet, there’s enough credibility, believability, acting, and suspense here for a half decent yarn.  Who knew?

CobraCobra – Sylvester Stallone has had a few greats, yes indeed, but this 1986 vehicle written by Sly and starring his then woman Brigitte Nielson is neither Rocky nor Rocky IV for that matter. The sunglasses, the car, the silly names, oh my the music and bad punch lines-Cobra is almost in a class by itself: the so dated, so eighties, so bad it’s so dang good.  At least Nielson was truly eye candy back then, and who’s really going to %^&* with Stallone, people?

Double Impact
Double Impact – I could just as easily cite any of Jean-Claude Van Damme’s flicks: Death Warrant, Sudden Death, Lionheart, or perhaps the slightly superior Universal Soldier or Nowhere to Run. Impact however, has the dubious distinction of using the oldest action film trick in the book. This isn’t a buddy cop movie, oh no-it’s long lost identical twin brothers from opposite sides of the martial arts! Despite the clichĂ©, Van Damme actually gives his dual roles some personality and separation. Of course, he kicks ass and gets the girl, too, but that was to be expected- along with the French accent, Asian stereotypes, and revenge-fu.

Navy Seals – Charlie Sheen has made his share of clunkers, I grant you that, but this 1990 typical military ‘up to snuff’ flick is pretty notorious, even garnering debate and disdain in Clerks.  Despite a half decent cast including resident action boys Michael Biehn (again) and Bill Paxton, this ridiculously obvious flick has so many bad turns that it’s actually fairly entertaining.  I probably still have all the dialogue memorized, and if there’s a drinking game, email me.
The Rookie The Rookie (1990) – This cop thriller from star Clint Eastwood is almost so bad it’s good.  It’s completely preposterous and again Charlie Sheen is not at his best, but the one-liners here are so dang kitschy that they’re catchy.  The all-star cast-including juicy Raul Julia and dominatrix Sonia Braga- are surprisingly good even if we’re at the bottom of Eastwood’s directing barrel.  Dirty Harry himself is a little too old for the action, but that’s supposed to be the point, isn’t it? Fans of the cast, bad buddy cop movies, and car chases can always delight in this one.

Showdown in Little Tokyo 
Showdown in Little Tokyo – There’s a certain je ne sais quoi about a movie that unabashedly shows a dummy getting crushed in a car compactor, not to mention all the women and sushi quips and penis size jokes one could ask for.  Dolph Lundgren (star of his share of bad movies like Masters of the Universe) and the late Brandon Lee (also unfortunate star of a few clunkers like Rapid Fire and really only one great film in his too short career, The Crow) do the obvious buddy role reversal here with all things Fu Lundgren and L.A. yuppie Lee.   Tia Carrere and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa juice up all the good, bad, and ugly here, even if every single thing in this one is so unintentionally funny that it’s actually a joy to watch. 

Toy SoldiersToy Soldiers – Bad boys Sean Astin (that’s Samwise, folks) and Will Wheaton (Wesley Crusher, need I say more?) are going to save their prep school from seriously angry, armed, and deadly terrorists.  Yeah right!  Once you take that considerable leap of faith, get over the obligatory bonding with spiked fluoride, and accept the obvious attempt at colorblind casting, this one is kind of fun.  The cast is both good and bad, the delinquent preppy boys really aren’t so badass at all, and yet you want to see Samwise save the day and help Frodo destroy the ring. Oh, sorry, wrong movie!

Now then, I was also going to mention a few films starring kick boxer turned SyFy Channel boy toy Olivier Gruner.  However, those yarns are a little more science fiction than pure action; and in the end I decided to classify Nemesis (1992) and the not available on DVD Automatic (1995) as hidden gems, not pathetic action flicks.  Don’t get me wrong, I actually love every movie I’ve mentioned here, I even own them.  How bad is that?

06 May 2010

I Weep for VHS

I Weep for VHS
By Kristin Battestella

Memorex MVD4544 DVD VCR Dual Deck PlayerGrowing up in the eighties, there were two essentials machines that I could disassemble and put back together:  my typewriter and my VCR.  Call me old-fashioned, but I still record tapes from my DVR to VHS.  VCRs are piling up in the Thrift Shops alongside the records; and unless I need a spare VCR for $10, my DVD/VCR combo will probably be the last VCR I’ll own.  Is it premature or overdue to ask for a moment of silence at the death of VHS? Here’s a list of my VHS movies and series that have either never been on DVD or are now discontinued or not available in North America. Typical! 

Not Available on DVD
Automatic (1995)
From Star Wars to Jedi: The Making of A Saga
Gideon (1999)
Kimberly (1999)
Kung Fu: The Movie (1986)
The Man in the Santa Claus Suit
Lonelyhearts (1958)
Raintree County
Treasure Island (1990)
Wild River (1960)

Out of Print DVD Sets
The Beastmaster
Best Years of Our Lives
The Four Feathers (1939)
King Creole
Last of the Dogmen
Nemesis (1992)
Powder (1999)
Rules of Engagement (2000)
School Ties
The Shootist (1976)

Unavailable in Region 1
The Buccaneer (1958)
The Hi-Lo Country
Johnny Guitar
Samson and Delilah (1949)
Three Days (2001)

Series Not Available on DVD
Batman (1966-68)
Blake’s 7
The Cape (1996)
Dark Shadows: Scariest Moments
Dead Man’s Gun Seasons 1 and 2          
The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles (The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones DVDs are recut and aren’t all the same material, it figures, right?)

So, why all this doom and gloom for an inferior technology, anyway?  Just because VHS tapes abound at yard sales and second hand shops doesn’t mean you should get rid of that jumpy, grainy, chewed tape just yet.  Make of list of your collection and be sure your favorites are readily available on DVD or blu-ray before you toss any irreplaceable tapes.  My Dad is determined to save old classics and home movies with his new DVD/VCR recorder.  If you’re into upgrading or have the time and technological know how to digitize-there’s software and equipment out there to preserve not just VHS, but cassettes and records.  A few taped-off-TV videos also might not play in a VCR other than the one it was recorded on, so know your assorted tracking parameters and adjustments, too. Some of the time, effort, and equipment is more affordable than others, but a videophile must way the costs of preservation against the entire upgrade of one’s collection. 

As a dedicated classic film fan, I browse the cable listings for the pictures not available on DVD.  If I find one I like and really want to have, I tape it.  Maybe it’s not the best medium, but it’s better than nothing.  If the government wants to make some money, they should release all the movies in the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry in a special blu-ray series.  After seeing The Searchers, Gone with the Wind, and The Wizard of Oz on blu-ray, I’d buy every one of my restored classic favorites if I could.   Dreams, I know!  Until then, don’t be so hasty to axe your VCR.  There’s still time to treasure your tapes-and to think, I didn’t list all the VHS tapes I own or the ones I’ve upgraded to DVD and blu-ray!  We’d be here a long time then!

04 May 2010

Sharpe's Peril

Sharpe’s Peril Imperfect but Still Great Fun
By Kristin Battestella

Sharpe's PerilYes I’m still reading and watching Sharpe! At long last, the sixteenth episode in the long running British series based on the books by Bernard Cornwell has come to the States. 2008’s Sharpe’s Peril has just enough charm and exotic Indian adventure for long time fans to delight.

Retired Colonel Richard Sharpe (Sean Bean) and his friend, former Sergeant Major Patrick Harper (Daragh O’Malley) have done their duty in India and are ready to return home. Unfortunately, the local Viscount makes one final request of Sharpe-he must escort the temperamental Marie-Angelique Bonnet (Beatrice Rosen) to Kalimgong to meet her fiancĂ©, Major Phillipe Joubert (Pascal Langdale). Along the road, Sharpe encounters a mixed column of King’s men and East India Company soldiers led by young Ensign Beauclere (Luke Ward-Wilkinson) and engineering Major Tredinnick (David Robb). The two have combined their forces in light of recent bandit raids and are escorting the prisoner Barabbas (Amit Behl, Tum Milo Toh Sahi) and Maharani Padmini (Nandana Sen) to Madras. Calvary Colonel Dragomirov (Velibor Topic) is unable to catch the local bandits, and Sharpe reluctantly agrees to lead the column to safety. However, internal treachery and Indian deceptions make the journey, well, quite perilous.

Sharpe’s Peril introduces us to an unusual wagon train that must band together, and it’s a very unhappy mix: angry King’s men, a major escorting his pregnant wife, the princess’ traveling caravan, a somewhat zealous missionary, and a selfish French bride-to-be. And yet, no one is what they seem. The random players are each bad or likeable and go on a journey of self in addition to the dangerous trek. There’s lots of rapacious incidents and kinky action, too, to keep Sharpe’s Peril juicy. Even Sharpe himself has to take a moment at the crazy turns this motley train takes. Crooked company men swindling on drug trafficking and implicating a local righteous rebel is a little too much of a twentieth century plot, I grant you, but it’s not like opium trade didn’t go on back in the day. In some ways this also adds to the dangers at hand-us upright westerners fearing heady, mind bending drugs in the exotic wilds of lawless India! There’s nothing like internal dissention, religious division, and cultural fears when you need some period piece drama. However, for every bad apple and twisted situation, we have a kindhearted moment of the column uniting against journey and tragedy.

Sean Bean is once again on form as Our Man Richard. Yes, he looks older than in Challenge; but here he is styled better, back to wearing rifle green and bemused by this crazy detour back to England. Bean isn’t as bleached and sickly as he seemed in the first India outing-although I wish his hair was out of his eyes instead of blowing about all the time. When we can see his eyes and facial expressions, we know what’s on Sharpe’s mind, from threatening to carry a woman who won’t obey to almost killing the son of Obadiah Hakeswill. For one who isn’t supposed to have airs and graces, Sharpe does know how to be a diplomat to each of his charges. His protection of the women and his fatherly attachment to his young Ensign is Sharpe at his best. And amid all this, we even have some humor. Who knew Sharpe thought ‘Dick’ was a bad name until he heard ‘Barabbas’ was worse?

Not to be outdone, Daragh O’Malley still has great wit. Though painful, his bout with kidney stones is somehow amusing amid all the brooding and squinting. India must be super sunny! Harper is in many ways the moral conscience of Sharpe. Even though Sharpe has a mind of his own, sometimes it’s too much of a mind, and Harper knows how to keep the balance when necessary. I like now that rank isn’t an issue, Pat can call Sharpe Richard. It’s also ridiculous that these touching, serious character moments that make Sharpe’s Peril are the pieces there were edited out for the international 100-minute version. No religion, long lost family, even Sharpe reflecting on his daughter and the losses and costs of the soldier’s life- indeed the best parts of Peril- were cut from the PBS airing. For shame on the television powers that be for interfering with fine period performances!

At least we have plenty of fine ladies and villains to spice up Sharpe’s Peril. Beatrice Rosen (The Dark Knight, 2012) as Marie-Angelique and Caroline Carver (The Royal Today) as the pregnant Mrs. Tredinnick begin as opposites and warm wonderfully as their experience progresses. Likewise, Indian actress Nandana Sen (Prince) is more than the snooty princess we are led to believe. Though Velibor Topic (Holby Blue, Robin Hood) and Pascal Langdale (Lucy Sullivan is Getting Married) are meant as our double crossing baddies, longtime Sharpe antagonist Michael Cochrane almost steals the show as a sun crazed and somewhat reformed General Sir Henry Simmerson. It’s great fun to see him calling Sharpe, his long time disdain, ‘Though art my redeemer, sir. The sweetest name in all the world, sir.’ Deception and role reverses keep the peril in Peril. Steve Speirs (The Phantom Menace, The Musketeer) as Colour Wormwood is a great creep, and his ill led men give us plenty to be suspicious about, too. When the true colors-both good and bad-come out, it puts everyone in jeopardy. There are actually a lot of people to like and care for here. I would say too many (certainly more than any other Sharpe episode) but for more fine performances from David Robb (Elizabeth: The Golden Age, Highlander: The Series) as Major Tredinnick, Raza Jaffrey (MI-5) as his loyal student Lance Naik Singh, and Luke Ward-Wilkinson (Wild at Heart) as the youthful Ensign Beauclere taken under Sharpe’s wing.

Long time Sharpe director Tom Clegg knows how to handle the swashbuckling action and ensemble cast. We pick up where the prior India installment Sharpe’s Challenge leaves off, and the wit, action, and characters that made the classic Sharpe episodes so delightful are all here. Although this is an original script from house writer Russell Lewis, the touches of Bernard Cornwell’s prequel India trilogy are stilted in 1818. There is a little unevenness again due to the post-Waterloo movement in the timeline. Peril is a road movie with fine character explorations, but compared to other Sharpe episodes, nothing much happens. While not bad by any means, when looking at the new to India flash of Sharpe’s Challenge, Peril does seem floundering or sub par. Sometimes the audience, like Sharpe himself, might wonder what we are still doing in India. Together, this uneven India pair isn’t as good a conclusion to the series as Sharpe’s Waterloo temporarily was.

Although there’s more literary material to draw from and plenty of fuel left in the cast and crew’s tank, to laymen viewers it may seem as if this pair of films is grasping at former glory and success. American audiences who finally saw these latest Sharpe episodes on PBS complained that they were just violent, unworthy drivel. That kind of negative attitude perpetuates the step down in quality, creating poor ratings, less and less funding, and little or no American distribution. Besides that, where have these naysayers been for the first fifteen violent and juicy action episodes that Sharpe’s content was so shocking to them? Masterpiece Theatre did treat these newest episodes as if they were merely filler, editing the two part episodes down to ninety-minute installments. This lack of love didn’t do the series any services. Sharpe isn’t meant to be serious brain food, and sure Peril is not the best episode in the series. Having said that, this series is better than any of our absurd reality show obsessions- and there is some quality reading to have along with it. Sadly, with budget cuts and other difficulties at the British networks, it’s growing more and more likely that this series will not continue. I for one would like to see at least one more episode- perhaps based on Sharpe’s Devil or detailing Sharpe’s children. Give Sharpe the ambitious send off it deserves, not a disappointing American whimper.

Nevertheless, the producers have also been faithful to longtime viewers instead of remaking or rebooting and starting afresh with Cornwell’s beginning novels. Little touches in Peril and wit from Bean are part of what makes Sharpe such fun. Yes, the India changes and inconsistencies hamper Peril, but regular audiences will notice that when Sharpe is shot in the arm and an old scar is reopened- its really just a tongue in cheek covering up of Bean’s ‘100% Blade’ tattoo. The camaraderie is still there, old villains are not forgotten, and Peril does a fine job of honoring the past as much as it allows room for the players involved to grow on this treacherous journey.

The storyline may have its faults with India, but the look of Sharpe’s Peril is golden. Elephants, Hindi, Bengali, the ladies costumes both native and European-Peril’s set and dressings look more like a film then a nearly not financed television production. The score is also on form. I never thought I’d say I miss that horrible electric guitar rift from the earlier episodes, but the traditional Sharpe music underlies the proper score wonderfully. The ‘Over the Hills and Far Away’ lyrics are also used to full poignancy in one critical scene. Some of the accents might be tough to some, as there’s not just British, but French and Indian dialogue. At least there are subtitles. Although some Americans might be confused by Sharpe’s slang, I think its great fun to see nowt onscreen!

And oh by gosh, by golly Sharpe’s Peril is glorious on blu ray! There aren’t many other features, but the 25 minute making of documentary packs everything you’d ever want to know or even imagine about the behind the scenes happenings. Everything from how the Russian stunt men don’t speak English to a billiards tournament lost by Sean Bean. The insights from all the cast and crew are wonderful and full of fun little things to the Sharpe insider. Tom Clegg reckons this makes 34 hours of Sean Bean, Daragh O’Malley runs the betting on all their games, and yes ladies, they are still smoking-cigarettes that is! It’s a Sharpe fan’s delight, and I regret that I don’t yet have the DVD. Thus far, this is my only Sharpe movie review without screen captures!

Super youthful audiences might not appreciate the complexities here, and there is a touch of language and sexual suggestion, too, that might be a bit much. Sharpe fans, however, as well as lovers of the cast and period piece action, will enjoy the charm and reflection of Sharpe’s Peril. I also implore any naysayers to return to the original novels or the vintage Sharpe DVDs before writing off this series as dead and buried. Can we have just one more episode, pretty please?