11 March 2007 | ExpendableMan
One of the latter efforts
Sharpe's Revenge has arguably the best opening twenty minutes of the entire series of films. With Napoleon's forces beaten back by the advancing British army, the French General Calvet and his men fortify a position atop a hill and make a last stand against the British forces, led by the determined Colonel Ross and Richard Sharpe, the rifleman with a habit of turning up at major historical battles. In a blaze of gunfire and cannon smoke, the English fight up the hill being whittled to pieces by the flying shrapnel but still pressing forward, until Sharpe and his men manage to blow a gaping hole in the defensive wall. Soon, the beleaguered French troops are being set upon by their blood crazed enemy in some vicious close quarters fighting. Swords clatter against each other, men scream in terror, wounds are torn in bodies and the Russian and Ukrainian stunt team set about flinging each other off walls with reckless abandon. It's an introduction that grabs you round the throat and refuses to let go, but sadly, the remainder of the running time falters after this dramatic opening and soon the story is floundering.
The reason for this is quite straightforward. After the first twenty minutes, the war suddenly ends, leaving the writers with the question of precisely what to do with Richard Sharpe until Napoleon can escape from exile and come back to fight Waterloo. Sharpe being Sharpe cannot go far though without getting himself in trouble and before you can say "I'm not so sure fighting a duel is such a good idea," his wife has run off with all his money and what's worse, he's been framed for the theft of Napoleon's gold and the murder of several French officers. Imprisoned and awaiting tribunal, Sharpe decides to take matters into his own hands and escapes with his friend Captain Frederickson across country to track down his foe and clear his name. This sounds quite exciting in practice, but it sadly results in a distinct lack of action and more hiding in farmhouses, culminating in a rather modest skirmish that is a long way from the breathtaking clashes with the French army that normally round off an episode.
Nevertheless, it still has its plus points. Captain Frederickson (Philip Whitchurch) in particular is given some very welcome screen time, proving himself to be a highly charismatic foil to Sharpe's dog headed determination. It also makes a refreshing change from having Harper playing the main supporting role, Whitchurch effortlessly stealing the entire show and making you wish he'd had more regular appearances than the mere three films he was given. Also returning is Feodor Atkine as Major Ducos, the evil Frenchman with a grudge against Sharpe. Once again, Atkine makes a fine villain, engineering the situation to tarnish Sharpe's honour and coming across as one of the most unlikeable wretches our hero will ever face.
It's a bit of a shame then that these terrific supporting performances and another dramatic play by Sean Bean (not so much acting anymore as wearing the character like a glove) are not enough to save the movie. Jane's betrayal of her husband isn't entirely convincing and her money grabbing lady friend is more of a sketch that a fully fledged person. Furthermore, a bit too much time is spent on her activities in London with the latest upper class twit to fall in love with her. Fair enough, it serves to set up events in later installments, but it has too many plot holes to be fully justified.
The lack of a fitting showdown is a disappointment too, the brief clash in a ruined fort at the end being no match for some of the epic fighting that has gone before. Even so, the performances by the cast are enough to warrant a viewing and as already mentioned, the first part of the film is absolutely great. Fans of the series will want to catch this one in order to complete the set of course, but newcomers would be better off starting elsewhere and casual fans may want to avoid it altogether.