Sharpe’s Challenge (2006) marked the return of Bernard Cornwell’s swashbuckling, early 19th century hero after a nine-year absence from television screens. The literary Sharpe began with Sharpe’s Eagle in 1981 and has continued through the years, most recently with Sharpe’s Fury in 2006. Television movie versions of Cornwell’s stories began in 1993 at the rate of about three a year until Sharpe’s Waterloo in 1997. Not having read nor seen any of Sharpe’s previous adventures, I found Sharpe’s Challenge generally enjoyable. It has nice production values but still has the look of a TV movie and no particular flair. The characters are broad stereotypes. However it does have the charm of a B-level swashbuckler of old.
The Blu-ray offers a pleasant presentation and includes the usual assortment of extra features. These features include two audio commentaries, outtakes, and a 47-minute behind the scenes featurette.These extras however do not add anything to the experience of the movie.
Unlike the British DVD version, which contains the complete cut of the film this Blu-ray release has been whittled down from 138 minutes to 109 mintues. The sound is great. While it looks decent it’s still unremarkable. Blu-ray does nothing to improve the made-for-TV look of the movie.
The movie begins with a violently where at an East India Company outpost then-Sgt. Sharpe (Sean Bean, The Lord of The Rings The Fellowship of the Ring, Golden Eye) watches helplessly as every man, woman, and child is murdered in a surprise attack led by traitorous East India Company Major William Dodd (Toby Stephens, Jane Eyre, Die Another Day). Sharpe himself is seriously injured, but survives.
Fast forward fourteen years and the Duke of Wellington (Hugh Fraser, late of Poirot) implores the now retired Sharpe to return to India to fight Dodd, who is acting against the British as chief adviser to a teenage Maratha rajah, Khande Rao (Karan Panthaky, Silsiilay). Sharpe refuses until he learns that his best friend, Patrick Harper (Daragh O’Malley, Wire in the Blood), who was investigating Dodd’s movements, is now missing.
Sharpe finds Harper but the problems start when Celia (Lucy Brown, Primeval), the daughter of General Burroughs (Peter Symonds, Lawless Heart), is kidnapped by Dodd’s troops, and the general is replaced on the field by Sharpe’s old nemesis: General Sir Henry Simmerson (Michael Cochrane, Sharpe’s Peril). Simmerson agrees to Sharpe’s plan of infiltrating Dodd’s forces by masquerading as deserters-turned-mercenaries.
I loved the camaraderie between Sharpe and Harper. Bean’s fine but Irish actor O’Malley has a relaxed presence about him. Toby Stephens is way over the top as the General Dodd. Lucy Brown makes an appealing damsel in distress.