Written by Charles Wood and Bernard Cornwell
Directed by Tom Clegg
March 1815 – Napoleon escapes from Elba and returns to France to plunge Europe into war once again. Facing Napoleon is an allied army of British, Dutch, Belgians and Germans under the command of Wellington, and also the Prussian army. Napoleon’s strategy will be to keep the allied armies apart.
1815 finds Richard Sharpe (Sean Bean) living with Lucille (Cecile Paoli) at her farm in Normandy. He swore to Lucille that he would never march and fight again and he reiterates this pledge, despite the fact that so many of their neighbors have rejoined the exiled Emperor. However, it is his work and Sharpe elects to fight once again – the call to arms is too strong within him.
His old riflemen assemble including Harper (Daragh O’Malley), Daniel (John Tams), and Harris (Jason Salkey). There are some interesting new characters too, not the least of which is Prince William of Orange (portrayed by Paul Bettany). He’s an affluent, eccentric commander of the Army and he plays the part quite well.
In Belgium, Wellington (Hugh Fraser) has joined with other leaders. He is nervous about fighting with them since some of their forces had been fighting for Napoleon only a little over a year before. Sharpe’s wife Jane (Abigail Cruttenden) is there with her lover, Lord Rosendale (Alexis Desinof). Rossendale initially believes Sharpe won’t be there, but then learns that Sharpe is on the Dutch staff and has been promoted to Colonel. Jane is rejected by those of respected society for going with her lover in her husband’s presence. Wanting to be free of the scorn of society, Jane urges her lover to kill Sharpe on the battlefield.
The final confrontation both between the allied armies against Napoleon as well as Sharpe and his past builds throughout the film. It’s done in a way that draws in all of the story up until this point – the camaraderie of the men who have been with Sharpe throughout the war is shown and drawn upon to give the emotional impact needed to certain parts of the story. The story is handled nicely as the goal of both Harper and Sharpe on the battlefield is to catch a glimpse of Napoleon and this builds at a nice pace through to the end.
In many ways it’s a story that’s been played out before in the series, where Sharpe must deal with an aristocratic superior who seems to have no idea what he’s doing when it comes to military strategy or using his troops to the best of their ability. Sharpe is jaded by now and is tired of dealing with this throughout his career. He is more short-tempered with young Prince than he would have been at the beginning of the series. One of the man’s aides finally clues Sharpe into the fact that the man is destined to one day be King of the Netherlands, not a glowing recommendation for ruling by royal succession.
Paul Bettany handles jumping into this role at the end of the series with relish. I could see hints of his performance in A Knight’s Tale where he portrayed an irreverent announcer named Chaucer. He has that same dry edge to the comedy and overblown personality here. Although I didn’t much care for the film, I think the role he had here in Sharpe’s Waterloo went a long way to preparing him for that one.
The real star here though is Sean Bean, and he keeps Sharpe in character as the person we’ve seen grow and evolve throughout the series. Fiercely loyal to his men, he conveys the anguish at watching some of the people he’s been with for so long suffer at the hands of an ignorant fool because of their own conscience’s. It’s a fitting end to the series. Although Cornwell wrote another book, the series left it here and it seems suitable.
The battle scenes in Sharpe’s Waterloo are among the best in the series. No, there is no way that there are 2,000 French coming at them on the battlefield, but the numbers seem higher than before and the feel of the battle is more genuine than ever before. It’s not that it wasn’t done well prior to this, it was just that it had the feel of being under-budgeted.