Written by Bernard Cornwell and Colin MacDonald
Directed by Tom Clegg
1813 – Wellington has begun his great offensive to finally drive the French from Spain. Napoleon, defeated in Russia, his armies in Northern Europe in retreat and disarray, is determined to hold Spain at all costs…
This is the fifth adaptation of Bernard Cornwell’s novels about a common man who manages to rise in ranks in the British Army despite the prejudices against his lack of noble birth. Many of the characters have already built up a history together by this point in time, and the camaraderie between the men, as well as the loyalty they display, is something hard to grasp if you haven’t viewed the previous four tele-films.
Major Ducos (Faodor Atkine) comes up with a plot to force Ferdinand to end his treaty with England in favor of a treaty with France. He is bent on revenge against Sharpe (Sean Bean), whose commanding officers admit that the man isn’t the same since the death of his wife, Teresa. He is beside himself with grief.
Alice Krige is a half French/half English Marquesa married to a Spanish Marques/General and is currently stuck behind French lines. Ducos has her write a letter to her husband, alleging that Sharpe tried to force himself on her while drunk. The General challenges Sharpe to a duel. The Marques’ almost certain death with Sharpe’s scrappy tactics ends when interrupted by Sharpe’s commander, Nairn. However, the Marques is slain later that night and Sharpe is blamed. He is to be court-martialed.
The officer assigned to defend him is young and unsure of himself. He comes off like a bumbling idiot. Sharpe is convicted and hanged…
But wait! There’s nine more episodes to the series! So it’s no real surprise that it’s a lot of theatrics for the benefit of the Spanish who wish to see Sharpe dead. He and his best buddy, Harper (Daragh O’Malley) are sent to locate the Marquesa, as she’s the only one who can tell Wellington what’s really going on.
There’s no real great mystery here, as I felt that I was given all the answers in the beginning. It’s simply a matter of if Sharpe can unravel the mystery and get the news back to where it matters, preventing the Spanish from changing their alliance to Napoleon. The writing could have been a bit better in this area in that there’s no real feeling of suspense about what’s going to happen.
The performances are good. Sean Bean is terrific again as Sharpe, although I felt as if something was missing from him now that he doesn’t have Teresa in his life. Whether that was Bean trying to convey the listlessness of the man fraught with grief or just a struggle to overcome writing that maybe could have been a bit better, I can’t say for sure. For all the talk of his mourning, however, when the opportunity presents itself, he doesn’t mind “going at it all night” with the Marquesa.
Alice Krige brings the film alive. She is wonderful in this role, and I don’t just say that because she was the Borg Queen in Star Trek: First Contact. She easily holds her own opposite Bean and the other actors, while at the same time conveying her vulnerability in the shadow of forces who wish to use her for their own purpose and then make her disappear so they can lay claim to her dead husband’s money. Any scene in which she and Atkine were together was a treat as they seemed to really play off of each other well. She’s a terrific, and very under-rated, actress. The scene of her fighting with the nuns in the convent is wonderful, and it’s a scene that could have easily descended into campiness, but doesn’t.
The quality of the DVD really is poor; more like what I would expect from a worn video-tape. It’s been a problem all through this series, so I doubt it will be fixed any time soon. Were there any interest in it, it would be worth it to clean the prints up and re-release the entire set as a boxed set.
I am still very interested in these stories, so I think the series is well worth continuing with. Bean, Krige, and Atkine more than make up for a less compelling story than I’ve grown used to. I wish O’Malley got more action as well, but he definitely adds to the production.