Written by Eoghan Harris and Bernard Cornwell
Directed by Tom Clegg
Toulouse. April, 1814. This is the last loyal town to Napoleon. This is the last battle. And if Napoleon loses, he will have to abdicate and make way for King Louis Phillipe.
This twelfth entry in the Sharpe series of British tele-films which followed the rise of Ricard Sharpe (Sean Bean) in the British army during the Napoleonic War sets in motion a series of events which concludes the series. Not all of what is started here is concluded here, but will be in the next two entries in the series.
Major Ducos (Fedore Atkine) is preparing to bolt with the French treasury if the British overrun Toulouse. This despite having been killed in Sharpe’s Honour. I guess some people are just more resilient than others.
Richard Sharpe knows this battle will decide the war, and for the first time he’s frightened. He’s leaving behind a power-of-attorney allowing his wife, Jane (Abigail Cruttenden), access to all of his money should anything happen to him.
Ducos is ordered to leave with the treasure, but turns back to settle the score with Sharpe. He almost succeeds, but his best friend, Harper (Daragh O’Malley) comes to Sharpe’s side and prevents Ducos from killing him.
After the battle, Colonel Wigram (Tom Hodgkins) insults Sharpe, practically begging for a duel. Sharpe complies, although with a bit rougher of a response than most duels. Colonel Ross (James Laurenson) warns Sharpe that if Wellington hears, Sharpe will be on the first ship home. Sharpe says that’s what he promised Jane.
However, when Jane hears she takes it that he’s broken his word to her about not fighting again. Lady Spindacre (Connie Hyde) manipulates her into taking a boat back to England and withdrawing all of Sharpe’s money.
Meanwhile, after allowing Ducos to escape, he sets up Sharpe for stealing the French treasury. Since Wellington is trying to cultivate a friendship with the new French government, he allows Sharpe to be sent to a military tribunal. Frederickson (Philip Whitchurch) acts as Sharpe’s legal advisor and surprisingly does very well.
When Sharpe is sent to prison, Harper and Frederickson break him out. Harper travels to England to confront Jane with a letter from Sharpe while Frederickson helps Sharpe track down the one witness to the alleged theft of the treasure.
Jane’s true colors show through. Once away from Sharpe in London, she jumps into bed with a nobleman named Lord Rosendale (Alexis Desinof) before Sharpe can even “most certainly be executed”. She’s enjoying her newfound wealth at the hands of her imprisoned husband and the status it brings, as well as her new lover when Harper shows up. The fact that she runs from him and has Rossendale beat him shows she no longer has any intention of living a life as a soldier’s bride.
Seeing Sharpe poised to live a comfortable life back in England having survived the terrible war and having gained some stature for himself, the way he is taken down in the episode has the effect of pulling the rug out from under me after I’ve invested so much in him and his rise through the ranks over the previous eleven films.
As for Jane, well, I doubted their relationship from the beginning. I actually doubted it more on Sharpe’s end than Jane’s, but she always seemed somewhat shallow in personality. Here it seems that the opposite is true. Richard is the one remaining loyal to her while she dallies about London, taking a lover before the bullet can be fired into his body. I wanted to scream at her when she first stupidly listened to “Lady” Spindacre. I knew it would go badly, but just how badly I had no idea. Her enjoying being a “rich widow” before she actually is suits her personality as does her lack of frugality with her husband’s fortune.
While all of this is going on, Sharpe is running around France trying to clear his name. Credit must go here to Philip Whitchurch who does an excellent job as Frederickson, outshining both Bean and O’Malley. His acting as the outsider of sorts in the company of suave, cool, good-looking riflemen is well-played. Whitchurch gives a convincing performance as a possible loose cannon against Sharpe after he feels slighted. However, Frederickson has his own moral code to stand with and he sticks with his commander. Whitchurch does a great job with the range he must play in this film, although his hair leaves a lot to be desired.
The battle scene is done well. Of course, it is staged with far fewer extras than the thousands of soldiers who fought it. Still, I found it easy to extrapolate what it must have been like – the chaos, the brutality. There’s also a scene where Sharpe, Harper, Frederickson and a company of French soldiers go after Ducos to bring back the treasury. It’s a well-staged and choreographed scene as well.
If you’ve invested yourself this far into the series, you have to see it through. There are some great and surprising turns of events. Seeing someone besides Sharpe and Harper get a chance to shine in the limelight also makes it very worthwhile. There’s a terrific build-up to the final two episodes of the series and I am eagerly waiting in suspense.