Yesterday I gave a full blow by blow with a short synopsis of the plot of ‘Rifles’ and how it affected me. I think today I can sum both up with a short conversation I had with a friend over Facebook Messenger while I was watching it.
I have edited out the more embarrassing things, because I apparently am a twee fan-girl.
A: How is Sharpe so cool? It should be Illegal. Brian Cox is equally good.
H: Aaah it’s so great. Which one are you up to? I’m so glad you like it. Another convert…
A: 2nd One
H: Omg Eagle is my joint Fave.
A: ‘Sharpe beats the Poshos to a pulp’
H: The best kind of Sharpe!
This was less than 10 minutes in. I will admit now, I was truly hooked. Sharpe and the 95th have been sent by Wellesley and Hogan to support the South Essex Regiment, a very formal group of red coats, on a mission to destroy a vital bridge to halt French military manoeuvres. The South Essex are introduced to us as a group of overworked men led by an arrogant and incapable Sir Henry Simmerson, played excellently by Michael Cochrane, supported by Lieutenant Gibbons and Lieutenant Barry, as well as a Major Lennox, who Sharpe knew from the Indian campaign and had the utmost respect for, and a Virginian Royalist LeRoy. Simmerson and Gibbons are the epitome of the upper-class idiot who clearly bought their rank, and Barry is a murderous, woman beating bastard, played by…
H: Have you spotted a ridiculously young Daniel Craig?
A: How could I not?
H: Hahaha, he’s such a bastard.
A: I love how cynical Sharpe’s men are. Every single thing the South Essex do they’re just like WTF you twats.
H: Haha yeah, the Rifles do always know best.
Simmerson treats Sharpe like dirt for he is ‘not a gentleman’ and is seconds from beating him with a crop before Hogan, sweet genius that he is, quickly reminds Simmerson that Sharpe is there on Wellesley’s orders.
The South Essex are beaten for any issues. Your men faint because you’ve made them run in full armour for an hour in the baking Spanish sun? Flog that man. They’re slow with your tea? Flog that man. They complain about the flogging? Flog that man. It doesn’t motivate your men. As Sharpe says himself, the only thing a flogged man learns is ‘how to turn your back’.
Sharpe and the 95th have a day with the South Essex. The men have been told that 2 musket shots a minute is enough. Not for Sharpe, who has the men remove their tight, red jackets, strips to the waist himself, and teaches them how to all get 3 a minute. One man gets 4, smiles, and promptly faints. What follows is the greatest line I’ve ever heard. As Simmerson looks down on Sharpe, himself showing the scars from a past flogging as he celebrates the 4 shots a minute feat, before huffing off. Hogan turns to the bare-chested Sharpe and simply orders him to ‘stop showing off, Sharpe.’ Richard’s reply of ‘Yessir’ is said through such a beaming smile.
After getting to the bridge, Simmerson spies some cavalry on the hillside, and decides to send his green men into what is so plainly a trap that Major Lennox, who was ordered to lead the attack, all but asks Sharpe for help. When the inevitable French trap is sprung, Lennox is left to die and Simmerson orders the bridge destroyed, cutting off the relief forces and losing the King’s Colour in the process.
Lennox dies in Sharpe’s arms, requesting they get a French eagle as recompense. As he passes, Sharpe agrees and charges off.
H: I hate Simmerson with such a fiery passion I can’t adequately describe it.
A: Sign of a genuinely good actor though
H: Oh, definitely. I bloody hate him. I can’t even hear his voice on the Archers sometimes.
Simmerson is given a full dressing down by Wellesley, especially after he gave an entirely falsified account of the battle that put all the blame on Lennox and praised his and Gibbons’ bravery when in fact, they both fled at the first sign of trouble. Luckily Hogan also wrote a report…
H: Eurgh, Simmerson
H: My favourite bit! When he’s there at the debrief with Wellesley after losing the colours. And he’s all “I have a cousin at the Horse Guards”, and Arthur [Wellesley] doesn’t give a shit, and says, ‘Your report differs wildly from the one given by Major Hogan…” and Simmerson says “Major Hogan is only an engineer”, and Wellesley goes “Major Hogan’s coal buttons tightly over many duties!”
A: Double slam!
The South Essex name is disbanded, and the light patrol is placed under a newly appointed captain. But not the newly gazetted Gibbons, but under Sharpe. Simmerson’s face is a glorious picture and he storms out, only stopping to ask Barry to “deal with Sharpe.”
Barry chooses to deal with Sharpe by getting him to challenge him to a duel, something Wellesley utterly hates and would punish severely – so far as to throw him down the ranks to that of regular solider. But how can Barry get Sharpe to fight? Simple. Beat a woman nearly to death.
Young Daniel Craig, you monster.
Luckily, Barry and Sharpe are sent out the night before on a reconnaissance mission to search for French infantry. In the inevitable firefight Barry shoots Sharpe deliberately in the leg and goes to finish the job before Harper (the Irish one, remember?) stabs him in the back and leaves him for dead, giving him the heroic death in battle he doesn’t deserve.
Hard cut to the Battle of Talavera, where the attacking French column of men causes Simmerson to flee in terror (because poshos are saps) and the men Sharpe coached stand strong, firing off 3 round per minute per man, halting the French attack and causing them to retreat. Sharpe springs into life, cutting through men to reach the French eagle standard, despite getting a severe wound himself. He grips hold of the eagle, the promise he made to Lennox is fulfilled, and collapses to his knees, passing out.
Wellesley is made Duke of Wellington, Sharpe is made Captain, and the episode ends with him stabbing the French standard into Major Lennox’ shallow grave.
A: Man got his birdy Stick. He rammed the bastard eagle so far down he could feel it.
H: This one’s for you Major Lennox
A: And Denny…
H: Oh God, Denny!
A: The Lost Rifle…
The 95th nearly expand their numbers this episode. Despite wanting to leave the war some 20 minutes in and Harper of all people talks them into staying, both out of loyalty to Sharpe but also because of what the 95th has made them. From criminals and outcasts to chosen men.
Denny, a man from the South Essex, becomes enamoured with the 95th and follows them into the battle against the French, only to be rewarded with a bayonet through the stomach and an early death.
So, that’s number 2. More character development, more conflict, more tension, men we know are getting injured and people we like killed. The music is so much more powerful this episode than the last, and it really helps ramp up the tension and power of the story, John Tams really wrote a great and fitting score. The acting is superb too, no one is unbelievable, even if Daniel Craig spends his first scene staring directly into the camera, and no one over acts their part. Everyone takes in seriously and honestly, and it just adds to the tension and drama.
I cannot fault this episode, barring the fact that the Battle of Talavera appears to be only made of two armies of 30 men, and not the huge thousand man brawl it was. But that’s a budgetary issue, not production.
Honestly, that’s the rating it’s getting and I’ll fight anyone who disagrees with me.