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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Keeping a Sharpe lookout for the next season of Masterpiece Classic

The last couple of Masterpiece Classic seasons have had the works of one author as their focal point(Jane Austen,Charles Dickens),so I was eager to see who would be next to get the big MPC treatment for 2010. Alas,the upcoming season is a tad more scattershot and without a defining theme.

Another film version of Jane Austen's Emma is due,along with a sequel to Cranford and a couple of other movies such as a remake of The 39 Steps. However,just as I despaired of any steady look at an author's cannon,the spotlight shone on two miniseries on the roster that share the name of Sharpe.

The first one is called Sharpe's Challenge,starring Sean Bean as Richard Sharpe,an ex-soldier from the British Army who takes on a mission to India to search for a missing man. He does this as a favor to the Duke of Wellington(his former commander)and runs into some old friends and enemies along the way. One of those enemies is General William Dodd(Toby Stephens),who has more issues than a magazine rack:

That series is followed up by Sharpe's Peril,where Sharpe and his buddy Patrick Harper( Daragh O'Malley) have to escort a young French woman to the fort where her fiance is stationed. That journey is about as risk free as a late night subway ride in any major city during a blackout and topped off by a sporting events riot in the streets.

There's kidnapping,bandit attacks,cover ups of crimes and treacherous train battles to deal with,plus the usual hazards of guarding a lady's virtue in such rough terrain. For a retired fellow,Sharpe puts up with more hassles than Danny Glover ever did in the Lethal Weapon movies and complains less:

Both of the Sharpe miniseries were filmed in India and are based upon three novels written by Bernard Cornwell(Sharpe's Tiger,Sharpe's Triumph and Sharpe's Fortress)who has over a dozen books about that character alone.

The movies were made for British TV and were last seen back in 2008. With Sean Bean's busy schedule these days,it may be next to impossible for him to reprise the part again,so savoring his stint as Sharpe here is a wise choice indeed.

I haven't read any of the Cornwell novels and yet,these two miniseries put me in mind of two other historical sagas either set within the same time period or having a similar story location. First to come to mind is The Far Pavillions, M.M. Kaye's massive tome that became an HBO miniseries. It's way more romantic than the Sharpe books appear to be,yet the clash of cultures combined with hidden alliances and long secrets make TFP a decent sidebar to Sharpe's saga,IMO:

The other is Master and Commander:The Far Side of the World,a movie based on two of Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey and Maturin series. Russell Crowe and Paul Bettany were successful at bringing those two characters into life on screen and the realistic nature of the plot seems to echo the insights into men in the military life that Cornwell's books appear to feature as well.

I've tried to read the O'Brian books for a while now,mainly due to their being set in Jane Austen's time(plus,she had two brothers in the Navy)and my interest was further increased upon seeing the movie.

The audience was dead silent throughout most of the film when I watched it during it's initial release,intent on not missing a single thing. It was almost like reading a novel with a group of strangers who became united by the action(both violent and non)unraveling before us. It was one of the better movies of that year and I am still determined to give the books another serious try. You can't pay a higher compliment to an adaptation than that:

Sharpe's Challenge and Sharpe's Peril are on the Masterpiece Classic schedule for early 2010,so check your local listings,folks. While I would've preferred another round of one author only adaptations(maybe taking up an American writer,for a nice change of pace),this pair of historical fiction sagas should make for some hot entertainment during the long cold winter ahead of us. For a cheaper thrill,you could always see what your hometown has on deck for some historical flair-just make sure to bring your own snacks:

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