Spain 1812 – Wellington begins his invasion of Spain from Portugal whilst Napoleon is preoccupied in northern Europe. To succeed, Wellington must first capture the two great frontier fortresses. In the south – Badajoz; and in the north – Ciudad Rodrigo…
The third entry in the series of British telefilms based on the Bernard Cornwell novels about British Army rifleman Richard Sharpe introduces a villain that is at times riotous and others quite frightening.
After a terrible battle to capture Ciudad Rodrigo, the men rejoice and plunder. Richard Sharpe (Sean Bean) locates the woman he loves, the Spanish rebel Teresa (Assumpta Serna), and learns they have a daughter, Antonia. However, his nemesis, Obadiah Hakeswill (Pete Postlethwaite), soon appears on the scene and first tries to force himself on Teresa. Sharpe tells his buddy Harper (Daragh O’Malley) how Obadiah was responsible for Sharpe getting flogged for something he didn’t do and cautions him to watch out.
Sharpe is put back down to Lieutenant after his Captaincy is purchased by a nobleman. Sharpe managed to deflect inquiries by Major Nairn (Michael Byrne) into his fight with the off-balance Obadiah by stating that Teresa is his wife and Obadiah insulted her. He yearns to be the first over the wall into Badajoz, so he will be given a rank that can’t be taken away from him.
Along the way, Harper is framed by Obadiah as a thief. Obadiah continually antagonizes all the men while sucking up to the officers so they don’t believe anything bad about him.
Sharpe’s rifle company is loyal to him, and his presence there causes a conflict. The major dispatches him to a special assignment so that the proper chain of command will be in place, and Sharpe leaves his men, promising that all will go back to as it was.
In many ways, this is a story seen before. There have always been (and probably will continue to be) stories about insane commanders and manipulative, sadistic comrades in the military who for some reason never are exposed to higher-ups, and it’s left to their rank-and-file buddies to exact justice. What saves the cliche here is the excellent acting of Postlethwaite. Although Obadiah seems to take on an almost comic air at times – I couldn’t help but burst out laughing at some of his facial expressions and antics – I don’t think that was the underlying design of the character. Postlethwaite just takes Obadiah in a direction of his own doing and keeps him from being the typical villain I’ve seen before so many other times.
That battle scenes are stunning. The siege at Badajoz is graphic and quite stunning as it seems that the redcoats are being massacred as they try to go over the wall. To add more drama, Sharpe knows Teresa and Antonia are inside the fortress’ walls. Some may find the scenes of how the redcoats were allowed to plunder and ravage quite unnerving, but such were the spoils of war at the time. Even heroes had their faults, and this was often the only way of motivating the troops.
Bean always seemed to portray Sharpe as perpetually angry in the first two installments, but here I saw a softer side as he deepens his commitment to Teresa and his daughter. I hope he’s given a more dimensional role as the series goes along as I liked seeing different sides to the character at last. O’Malley is excellent as Harper, and the two actors together make quite believable buddies. The scene where Harper is flogged after being falsely incriminated by Obadiah is great. Sharpe has been there himself and stands with his friend who is determined to walk away after being lashed.
The picture quality is still quite grainy, and I wish more care had been taken either in the actual filming or in the digital transfer. Many of the visuals in the countryside have the potential to be stunning, if only they were filmed better.
Anyone who enjoys period pieces would be doing themselves a favor by following this series. The acting is terrific and the story compelling. It’s enough to make me want to pick up the novels upon which these are based as I’ve been told the film adaptations are quite faithful to the original Cornwell stories.
Previous story in the series (link): Sharpe’s Eagle
Next story in the series (link): Sharpe’s Enemy