I wish some consumer reviews would quit harping and nitpicking how this episode does not exactly follow the plot of the book. This film is a compilation of three of Bernard Cramwell's novels. In the time frame of three hours it is impossible to include every one of his plot twists and turns. It is a given that some details will be deleted, and for the purpose of adapting the book to film medium some new plot conventions would be added. Rarely does a film identically match a novel and transferring a book to film creates the necessity for some artistic license.
The "Sharpe" series should be accepted as pure entertainment, not a detailed history lesson, so just accept the plot with some suspension of belief and not quibble about strict historical interpretation. "Sharpe's Challenge" is very loosely based on events which happened in India during British Colonialism and all the characters are fictitious. If the viewer accepts this, you'll definitely enjoy this swashbuckling episode. Lots of heroic deeds of derring do, acts of transformation, romance, political intrigue...there is plenty of swordfighting and minimal amounts of gore, blood and guts. The violence is not gratuitious, which suits me just fine, because I don't like violent action pictures. The movie is character driven, plot driven, with a strong narrative and literary script.This film is a work of art.
Nine years has passed since Sean Bean starred in "Sharpe's Waterloo" and, of course, he is older than prior episodes. Some consumer critics were irritated that Sean Bean doesn't have the teenage looks which the original novel places him in India. Again, they need to "get over it". Sean Bean was 47 when this film was made, and still has plenty of rugged sex appeal. I respect him, because he is one of the few actors in Hollywood that hasn't been pumped full of Botox, nothing has been nipped, tucked, lifted. It's a pleasant experience to see a handsome middle aged actor with absolutely NO plastic surgery! Clearly, this is an actor comfortable underneath his own skin.
Sean Bean is a world class actor, classically trained at the British Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts and he always gives a masterful performance in all episodes of the 15 "Richard Sharpe" series - he "owns" the role and I can't envision any other actor giving the same credibility to the character. When the first "Sharpe" series was shot in the
mid-1990's, Paul McGann was initially cast in the role, but bowed out at the last minute due to an injury. Sean Bean was awarded the role as an incredible fluke of good luck and frankly, I couldn't be more delighted! This was the role that made him a star - and the "Sharpe" series is a classic that holds up over time.
The production values, cinematography, art direction are very strong, and the period costumes are gorgeous. A very fine ensemble cast of character actors all give wonderful performances. Toby Stephens as the turncoat rogue British officer who switches sides is deliciously evil as "the man you love to hate". Darragh O'Malley as Sgt. Harper gives another wry, sardonic performance as Sharpe's trusted ally. As ever, Sean Bean is terrific and I loved his performance.
The only real problem I have with this episode are a few TERRIBLE actors. Padma Lakshmi who plays the conniving, sinister courtesan turned Regent ruler is quite beautiful, but frankly cannot act her way out of a paper bag and gives a dishwater-limp performance. This could have been a very juicy role for a skilled actress but she was horridly miscast.
Her bio states she was a model, celebrity chef and the wife of Salaman Rushdie. She was miscast, and I think she got this part based on her social connections. It is my understanding this was Padma Lakshmi's very FIRST acting role, and well, it shows with a wooden performance. She is an absolute knock-out in the looks dept. - so I just ignored her weak performance, since it was just a supporting role.
The actor who plays Sgt. Bickerstaff is horrible and very hammy. He screams all his lines in full blown manic rage. One very glaring plot hole that was inconsistent is although Sharpe has resigned his military commission and was in retirement, he still had the rank of Colonel while on special assigment in India - so why on earth does he allow Sgt. Bickerstaff to beat him up and threaten his life? It was considered an offense punishible by death to strike a superior officer - so when Sgt. Bickerstaff attacks Richard Sharpe - it doesn't make sense he gets off without being put to death.......but in the "Sharpe" series, its a given there always has to be a nasty villian to create the narrative development - Sharpe needs an adversary to overcome in his inevitable victory.
I've seen all the previous 14 "Sharpe" episodes and by far, this 15th
episode has the biggest budget, largest cast and most sumptuous production values. In the 14th episode "Sharpe's Waterloo" all of Richard Sharpe's cohorts from the Chosen Men are killed off in battle.
I missed all those wonderful character actors who were in most of the prior episodes and played the Chosen Men - however, Wellington and Ramona from the original cast have small cameos, and the brand new characters introduced help round out the cast. Lucy Brown is wonderful as the General's daughter. It is a smaller, supporting role - but she is very good at it. The General's daughter doesn't really fall into the category of a "love interest" for Richard Sharpe, but more along the lines of an unrequieted crush that never is allowed to surface - so I enjoyed the bittersweet ending when Sharpe goes off to France at the end. She and Sharpe bond emotionally, but must hold themselves back because both their lives are in danger and the primary goal is to escape from the Maharaja's fort alive, and in one piece.
The Indian actors who portray the Maharahah Kandhe Rao and his sister give very strong performances. I appreciated the screenwriter emphasizing the oppressive effect of British Colonial imperialism on the people of India. Instead of the stereotypical cliche of "backwards natives" roles the Indian actors are given a literate script and strong dialogue when they explain to British officers they are justified in wanting the British to leave their country and deserve to manage their own affairs.
At first, the British General's daughter and the Indian princess have a combative relationship - but eventually come to respect each other and form an alliance based on their mutual survival. These two women in the film aren't just "window dressing" and maidens in distress - but two women who manage to deal with the political/military machinations they find themselves embroiled in.
This a terrific movie and I know you'll love it! I highly recommend all the other 14 episodes of the Richard Sharpe series. I definitely recommend watching them IN ORDER of sequence - #1 to #14 - there was one "clunker" episode about lost Aztec gold, but on the whole, this series is world class and rollicking fun, a romantic, epic swashbuckler set during the Napoleonic wars in Spain and France.