Written by Eoghan Harris and Bernard Cornwell
Directed by Tom Clegg
1813 – Wellington waits on the Spanish border, gathering his forces to invade France. But which way will he go? East or west?
The tenth entry in the series of British tele-films about the exploits of a common man in the British Army who manages to rise through the ranks during the war with Napoleon begins just days before Sharpe’s (Sean Bean) wedding to Jane (Abigail Cruttenden). General Wellington hears from a French nobleman (Christian Brendel) of the possibility of stirring up a rebellion against Napoleon in Bordeaux. Sharpe is to be sent in with the young, naive Colonel Bampfylde (Christopher Villiers). Their first encounter has already gone poorly, Bampfylde having had to back down from challenging Sharpe to a duel after learning of Sharpe’s history.
As he’s about to leave, Jane comes down with a fever that’s ravishing the encampment. Sharpe’s a bit distracted with worry about his new bride. When Bampfylde goes against Sharpe’s judgment and splits the forces to try to take over the French nobleman’s castle, Sharpe has no choice but to take his riflemen away from the main attack force and watch as those men are led into a bloodbath.
Sharpe’s Siege brings back Major Ducos (Feodore Atkine). He is bringing instructions directly from Bonaparte to the officers in the field. Here he runs up against a French officer who has seen action in Russia and is not easily intimidated by the Major. However, this means the plot which has been cooked up to lure Wellington into invading France where the French soldiers will be waiting for him could fail if Sharpe sees Ducos and realizes who the “mayor” of a local town really is.
This episode in particular showcases a good performance by Bean. Although his distraction at the plight of Jane sometimes has the feeling of being a contrived situation, it is well-played. Up until now, Sharpe’s love-life has been made up mostly of dalliances. I was not even convinced he loved Jane – it seemed as if he was marrying her more out of obligation to get her away from her uncle, the evil Colonel Simmerson. However, here for the first time his feelings surface in earnest and Bean’s portrayal seems good in this respect, if a little too earnest when Jane first comes down with the fever.
In Sharpe’s Siege the battle scenes are well done. It seems as if there are more bodies than usual going in an the effect depicting a slaughter of the British at the hands of an inexperienced and inept commander (Bampfylde) is depicted well. Of course, Sharpe manages to take the castle by using a ruse to get his riflemen in. This doesn’t sit well with Bampfylde who immediately tried to co-opt Sharpe’s success.
If there’s one plot-line that’s getting tiresome by this point in the series it’s Sharpe continually being put under the command of those who have attained their status only through accident of their birth and are completely inept with the task before them. Bampfylde is no exception and may possibly be the best example of this phenomena.
When Sharpe and his men return to the castle they find it abandoned by Bampfylde. The cannons have been spiked, the powder magazine flooded. Sharpe and his men are essentially at the mercy of the French who are about to raid the castle and use it as a stronghold against the British. Will Sharpe follow Wellington’s orders and hold the castle or will he abandon it and return to camp as Bampfylde has done? What will happen to the British forces being readied to invade France? And what about Jane?
There’s a good comment in Sharpe’s Siege on the civility of war. When one of Sharpe’s men is caught with a French girl, he’s ready to have him executed, believing he is raping the girl, who is among the people they are hoping to keep on the side of the British. He states flat out that “we need these people on our side…” It’s quite a statement about how to behave in a war in regard to the people being “liberated.”
This is a great tele-film in the series. If the plot of the inept commander weren’t so overplayed at this point in the series, it would be close to perfect.