Written by Eoghan Harris and Bernard Cornwell
Directed by Tom Clegg
1810 – Portuguese/Spanish Border – After his victory at Talavera, Wellington faced by superior French forces retreats to Portugal. He waits for the next French move. Richard Sharpe. Newly promoted Captain, is sent out on patrol under the command of a certain Major Brand.
This flashback sequence sets the stage for the main story. I was confused at first as in the chronological series of events this episode seemed to go backwards. I was wondering if I had missed something, but less than five minutes into the story, we’ve advanced to three years later.
Major Richard Sharpe (Sean Bean), has been promoted through the ranks not because of noble birth but because of his bravery, sense of duty, and abilities. His new bride, Jane, (Abigail Cruttenden) confesses her unease at what will face them socially when they return home from the war to England. Sgt. Harper (Daragh O’Malley) is also facing problems on the home front when his Spanish wife, Ramona (Diana Perez), is jealous of the gypsy girls from the village he seems to pay too much attention to. Meanwhile, Brand’s top aide, Sgt. Pope (Andrew Schofield), makes unwanted advances to Ramona.
Sharpe is dispatched with Major Brand (who was shown in the flashback to be a French spy) to go thirty miles behind the French line and blow up their powder magazine located in some caves. To do this, they enlist the help of Major Pyecroft (Nigel Betts), an explosive expert who had an unfortunate accident due to Major General Ross (James Laurenson) setting the fuse too short.
On his way to meet up with Sharpe and Ross, Pyecroft encounters a frightened gypsy girl who’s parents have been murdered. She holds a valuable secret for the British forces, especially Sharpe. When the gypsies around the camp are all found murdered, one of Sharpe’s men is fingered for the blame. However, Brand (Mark Strong) tips his hand when he takes it for granted that the girl Pyecroft found is among them. Sharpe doesn’t seem to notice Brand’s slip, but later has a discussion about the situation with Pyecroft.
This is a terrific entry, the eleventh in the series of fourteen. It’s also not directly based on one of Cornwell’s novels, but is an original story based on Cornwell’s characters. Whether it’s because there was no worry of a novel to be faithful to, or just plain good writing, this is one of the better installments. There is just the right mix of levity, action, and suspense. Viewers know from the beginning that Brand is a spy, but that doesn’t take away from the intrigue as the entire plot and set-up unfolds.
Having Pyecroft in there is another twist, and one of the more memorable characters from the series. He’s usually seen wearing a leather hood to shield him from the stares people would give him because of the damage to his face. He distances himself from people, yet at the same time I could tell the character was sharp as a tack and honorable. His alliance with Sharpe is a natural one. The two actors seem comfortable working alongside each other as well as in the roles. Betts gives Pyecroft a multi-dimensional component. He’s got an uneasy relationship with Ross, and with the British high command. He never seems to switch gears too fast with the character; Pyecroft has an edge and is flawed, but it’s completely what you would expect from someone who works with explosives.
Likewise, Bean has Sharpe nailed, which he should by now. Sharpe is uneasy and somewhat intimidated around the more educated people his wife seems to enjoy spending time with. At the same time, he can move into the role of leader with ease and confidence. Bean pulls off both sides of Sharpe believably.
The battle scenes are staged very well, some of the better ones in the series. It seems as if director Tom Clegg has finally figured out how to do them right. It’s also one of the better transfer jobs as well, although the sound could be uneven at times.
Anyone who likes historical fiction would love this series. There is so much history with the characters, I can’t see the purpose in picking up the series here. Some of the episodes overall may not be worth watching, but to get the general feel for the history of how Sharpe got to be where he is and the camaraderie and deep respect his men and Wellington seem to have for him, you should really view the series in order.
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