The Sharpe series of TV movies, based on the books by Bernard Cornwell tell the continuing adventures of a British rifleman during the Napoleonic wars. Each is filled with terrific battles, dashing heroism, buxom bodice ripping women and blustering commanding officers behaving like idiots to the consternation of Sean Bean's titular character and the rest of the rank and file. Sharpe's Eagle, one of the earliest entries, is arguably one of the most enjoyable escapades our hero goes through. Additionally, it's also worth noting that years before Bean locked horns with Pierce Brosnan in Goldeneye, he also came to blows with another Bond - in this case, Daniel Craig, who plays a villainous English officer with designs on an impoverished Spanish noblewoman.
Eagle gets its title from the French army's gold Eagle standards and this entry in the series shows Sharpe's attempts to restore the honour of his regiment by capturing one. Needless to say, this involves a lot of fighting and while the limits of the budget are all too apparent in this day and age, it lends the fights a more personal edge, zeroing in on one regiment in the midst of an epic clash between the armies and our view of the field is exactly the same as theirs would be; we see the immediate threat and little else, the rest of the army shrouded in smoke. The bruising clash between English and French cavalry near the start is just the prelude to the climactic battle for Talavera where Sharpe and the boys take on an entire French army in a hail of musket fire followed by some bloody close quarters fighting.
The violence aside, the other chief focus point is Sharpe himself, ably portrayed by Sean Bean. He may be better known to audiences nowadays for playing villainous roles, but he actually suits the rough and ready hero far better. He doesn't so much act as inhabit the character completely; this isn't Sean Bean playing Sharpe, he simply is Sharpe. Brian Cox meanwhile puts in a fine supporting role as Major Hogan and Daragh O'Malley as always is effortlessly charming and dangerous as Sergeant Harper, Sharpe's right hand man.
But a hero is only ever as good as his enemies are bad and Sharpe's Eagle has two of the most detestable oafs to ever crop up in the series. With the French army a distant threat, his main encounters come with authority figures and rival officers, in this case Michael Cochrane's inept Colonel Simmerson and Daniel Craig's Lt. Berry. Simmerson is a snarling, beast of a man, addicted to scarification and with a stubborn belief that flogging and corporal punishment will keep his men in line. Craig on the other hand is delightfully slimy as an upper class villain with a penchant for abusing women, a cool headed and calculating evil to Simmerson's over the top cad.
In short then, a highly enjoyable two hours of swashbuckling. It is a far more intimate portrayal of a colossal historical war than it would have been if it was made in Hollywood, but it is one that takes us right down onto the front line with the red and green jacketed troops. Sean Bean is so good its a bit of a shame that he has been relegated to playing the same evil English men that he comes to blows with here, but ultimately this is one of the most enjoyable transitions of a novel to screen I can name. And given that it deviates little from the (highly recommended) book, one of the most respectful ones too.