16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
Another first-rate, rousing adventure for Richard Sharpe. If he loses in this one, he'll have a nail pounded into his head,
This review is from: Sharpe's Challenge [DVD] (DVD)
The war's been over for two years. Up-from-the-ranks retired colonel Richard Sharpe (Sean Bean) is, more or less happily, making a living as a farmer. And then he's summoned to the Duke of Wellington's home in London. There, the Duke explains, a crisis is arising in India on the frontier between the British and the Mahratta princes. British agents have disappeared. Reports of armed rebellion have surfaced. The Duke wants Sharpe to find out what is happening and, if possible, put a stop to it. Sharpe responds as any experienced ex-soldier would when called back to the colors...he declines. Then he learns the last agent to go missing was his old comrade, Patrick Harper (Daragh O'Malley). When we next see Sharpe he's making his way through dusty Indian villages towards the encampment of a small British army not far from the fortress of the Rajah of Ferraghur. Happily, he encounters Harper, who had gone undercover in an attempt to gain information. From what we know and have seen, Sharpe's task will be extremely dangerous and fraught with risk. He will meet an enemy worthy of him, an English traitor named William Dodd (Toby Stephens), arrogant, vicious and supremely capable. A deserted lieutenant from the British-led Indian Army, Dodd is now styled a general who is leading the forces of the young Rajah. When Sharpe and Harper pretend to be deserters themselves in order to join the Rajah's army, Sharpe will also encounter the beautiful and deadly Madhuvanthi (Padma Lakshmi), regent and elder sister of the Rajah. The Rajah, the regent and Dodd all approve of the old ways when dealing with traitors, captured soldiers, thieves and other malefactors. They have nails hammered into the skulls of the unfortunate captives.
Don't hit the fast-forward button or you'll regret it. This turns out to be one of Sharpe's best adventures. This also may be Sharpe's most challenging assignment, with the fate of the Empire, as well as the honor and life of a general's daughter, hanging in the balance. At 138 minutes it has plenty of time and a plentiful budget to set up the background and create many scenes with lots of action. There's a big cast of extras. And there's a great battle where hundreds of soldiers scramble to gain entrance to the rajah's fortress through a towering wall.
Sharpe's adventures, based on the novels by Bernard Cornwell, began on television in 1993 with Sharpe's Rifles. The last was Sharpe's Waterloo in 1997. Sean Bean has aged well in the interim. If anything, he looks even tougher. Daragh O'Malley may be a bit heavier but he still looks capable of clearing out a bar on Friday night. From the casts of those old programs we have a brief moment with Hugh Frazier, again playing Wellington. Sharpe also encounters again that pompous, cowardly aristocrat, General Sir Henry Simmerson, still played with lip-smacking relish by Michael Cochrane. Simmerson thinks Sharpe is a jumped-up peasant who needs to be put in his place, and tries hard to do so. I still miss the late Sergeant Obadiah Hakeswell, leering and repellant, who liked to talk into his hat when not trying to shoot Sharpe in the back. He was played with verve by Pete Postlethwaite. His replacement in Sharpe's Challenge, played by Peter-Hugo Daly, is Sergeant Shadrach Bickerstaff. Bickerstaff is a mouth breather, a leering bully, a resentful opportunist, a man who probably last saw a bar of soap when he last brushed his rotting teeth.
The prize for villainy, however, goes to Toby Stephens as Dodd. He's not so much unhinged as he is utterly logical when it comes to protecting his self-interest and justifying his resentments. Plus, of course, killing makes him feel good. He's a man to avoid, especially if he says he likes you. Stephens is a first-rate actor. He can do villains so well I hope he doesn't do too many more of them. He'll find himself typecast. For a much more subtle and complex take on villainy, watch him as Kim Philby in Cambridge Spies.
Sharpe's Challenge is a first-rate rouser. It's a welcome addition to the Sharpe set.
"Though kings and tyrants come and go
A soldier's life is all I know
I'll live to fight another day
Over the hills and far away."