o Masterpiece of War and Love Napoleon Style (Richmond
Times-Dispatch, November ?, 1993)
o Making Sharpe (Military Illustrated, June 1996)
o Testing Sharpe's Rifle (Military Illustrated, November 1996)
2. NEWSPAPER AND MAGAZINE ARTICLES
o ON ME 'EAD SON
Sky (March 1996)
o THE LEADER OF THE PACK (FOOL'S GOLD)
TV Times (14-20 November, 1992)
o BLADES RUNNER
Yorkshire Post (February 24, 1997)
'MASTERPIECE' OF WAR AND LOVE NAPOLEON STYLE
by Douglas Durden
Richmond Times-Dispatch (U.S.)
NOVEMBER ??, 1993
As most viewers settle down to watch part one of CBS' Return to Lonesome Dove
tonight, PBS counterprograms with something you don't see much of on American
TV - a slice of the Napoleonic wars.
At 9 p.m. on Channel 23, "Masterpiece Theatre" begins its four-part Sharpe,
based on two of author Bernard Cornwell's several novels about Richard Sharpe, a
British rifleman raised from the ranks and appointed an officer.
For "Masterpiece Theatre," which usually specializes in weighty modern dramas or
the best of the British classics, Sharpe is pure pulp fiction - but immense fun.
Breasts heave, gentlemen sneer and soldiers carouse before setting out on daring
escapades. There should be a rule, however, against the use of electric guitars
in soundtracks for period dramas.
Sharpe, played by Sean Bean, is a sergeant on the front lines of the Peninsula
Wars (England vs. Napoleon's forces in Portugal and Spain) as the miniseries
Thanks to being near the right place at the right time, he manages to save the
life of Sir Arthur Wellesley, the future Duke of Wellington, who is leading the
English effort against Napoleon.
To show his gratitude, Wellesley promotes Sharpe to lieutenant. This is not
immediately a good thing for the rough-edged sergeant.
The other officers, most of whom come from wealthy families and buy their
commissions, look down on Sharpe as "not one of us."
Even more contemptuous of the new officer are the enlisted men he now leads, a
select band of sharp-shooters given the nickname of The Chosen Men.
"They think of you as one of them; one of the damned," a dying officer advises
Sharpe cannot be discouraged. Besides, he has a gift for survival - the early
19th century equivalent to street smarts.
He whips his men into shape, eventually earning the respect and friendship of
Harper, an Irish malcontent. And he impresses his mentor, a British spy named
Hogan, with his daring.
Sharpe is divided into two two-part adventures - Sharpe's Rifles and Sharpe's
In the first, Sharpe and his men are sent on a secret mission that includes
joining forces with a band of Spanish guerrillas.
In the spirit of pulp literature, the leader of the guerrillas is a gutsy young
woman who has suffered at French hands. Do Sharpe and the young woman develop a
romantic attachment? Do you have to ask?
In Sharpe's Eagle, Sharpe is confronted with a particularly obnoxious commander,
one of those vain noblemen who buys his way to the top.
The inept commander overworks his men, then has them whipped if they collapse.
There's also a damsel in distress here, a Spanish widow being mistreated by two
With his much-photographed chiseled profile, shock of tousled hair and ability
to look scornful, Bean, who played an Irish terrorist in Patriot Games, is the
But, almost stealing the production are the two supporting characters given the
most humor - Brian Cox (The Cloning of Joanna May) as Hogan, an engineer with a
talent for subterfuge; and Daragh O'Malley as Harper, the wily Irishman who
becomes fiercely loyal to Sharpe.
For those who aren't experts in 19th-century warfare, much of Sharpe's early
scenes are confusing - especially when it comes to distinguishing the English
and Spanish troops from the French.
Helpful hint: The French soldiers are the ones who look as if they're wearing
stockpots covered by cheesecloth for headgear. And the English are the red-and-
white dressed soldiers who look as if they're headed to a dinner party.
P.S. If you are a "Masterpiece Theatre" newcomer who takes a liking to Sean
Bean, Samuel Richardson's Clarissa, in which he co-starred, will be repeated
Dec. 19, 26 and Jan. 2. But be warned. In this one, Bean plays a rake, wastrel
and the ruination of Richardson's young heroine.
Napoleonic Wars: Behind the scenes of the latest TV film.
Recently screened on British television, Sharpe continues to be the most popular
portrayal of Napoleonic warfare. RICHARD MOORE, a veteran re-enactor, is also
historical advisor to the series. Here, in an interview with PHILIPP J. C.
ELLIOT-WRIGHT, Richard strikes back at critics of the series and gives an
insider's view of the difficulties and successes in recreating history on the
The many viewers of the Sharpe series may well be aware that its historical
advisor, since boyhood an active exponent of rod, gun, horse and hound, is also
a veteran re-enactor of the Napoleonic Association - Richard Rutherford-Moore.
Having now completed eleven of the fourteen episodes, with a planned production
going again later in 1996, the series has had a tremendously successful run. It
is now seen that Richard has infused not a little of his character, history and
interpretations into the series, in terms of military terminology, uniforms,
troop handling, weapons training and the 'battle' scenes; and literally too, as
'Rifleman Moore', one of Richard Sharpe's comrades. He is an 'official' Rifleman
and the trustee of the South Essex Regimental Museum and has an exhibition of
'THE MAKING OF SHARPE' at the Regimental Museum of the Royal Green Jackets in
Winchester as well as appearing this year at many events with the Napoleonic
Association and English Heritage. As MI readers have had the opportunity to see
the most recent episodes, they might be interested in hearing Richard's account
of what it takes to bring the heroic Sharpe to the TV screen.
Philipp:- How did you first come to be involved in Sharpe?
Richard:- During the 1985 re-enactment of Waterloo a chap asked if I was a
rifleman. As we marched along, he took a lot of photographs and then produced a
tape recorder and asked if he could record the sound of my boots as I marched.
This strange request made me ask what he was up to. It transpired he was a
researcher for the prospective Sharpe series, now transferred from the original
radio concept, onto television. I had already supplied some advice concerning
this, so a fresh partnership began here, and the fortunes of Rifleman Moore and
Richard Sharpe became inseparable. What was needed was someone who could
transform Bernard Cornwell's imagination into hard facts as to the manufacture
and use of troops, weapons, uniforms, etc and bring them to life onto the small
Philipp:- What has been your role in the making of the series and has it changed
since the initial episode?
Richard:- The answer to the question is that it hasn't so much changed as grown.
Originally I trained the principal actors to use the Baker rifle in London
before they went out to the Crimea, and I also included a little rifleman-like
training too! The director and producer asked me to go out after the build-up
for two weeks to help get it all off the ground in the Crimea; 26 weeks later I
returned home after the first series was finished. Since then, Tom Clegg, the
director, has read up a lot himself on period warfare and has got a lot of
hands-on experience. After four series I still interpret the military/economic
situation of the period for him in order to give him and others a good grasp of
why things happened as they did, and why I want to change dialogue or actions in
the scripts to fit in with what really happened. I show everyone how things came
about in the past and why we should try to stick to the historical facts within
the terrific demands on us keeping to the shooting schedule and the need to
maintain a 'dramatic impact' throughout the finished programme... in other
words, making it exciting for the 12 million viewers we have! The only extra
aspect of my original duties is the training and inspiring of the extras in
terms of getting them to look and behave like period soldiers. Some respond so
well they get parts in the films! This aspect really has been a very fulfilling
Philipp:- Can you give any examples of the logistical difficulties faced in
ensuring the equipage of hundreds of extras in the Crimea and Turkey?
Richard:- One immediately springs to mind - leaving England at the end of the
first episode this year, and finding out that space on the aircraft meant that
in fifteen minutes the Wardrobe Department had to decide which 50 one-metre
square boxes of the 250 full of uniforms and kit had to be left behind for
another shipment later; load the remaining boxes, fly to Turkey, rack and
catalogue ready for FILMING THE NEXT DAY in 100 degrees heat for sixteen hours
in the first of our big battle scenes! Weapons alone mean over 200 muskets, 25
rifles, 90 swords and 30 pistols going out each day and in five different
Philipp:- There are many of us who regularly laugh at the common appearance of
percussion muskets and breach loaders in Hollywood productions, a glaring
example being the dreadful Revolution. Has it been easy to ensure all weapons
seen on the screen are correct for the Napoleonic period?
Richard:- When I originally became involved I did ask for all the weapons to be
correct for the period, this was because people would expect it after the
success of Bernard's novels and the historical films I'd seen before where all
manner of weapons are apparent. Because of my background as a long-term
muzzleloader I advise greatly on this aspect. Finance was a problem setting up
the large armoury we use on Sharpe, as was the availability of good rifles. All
the principal actors use my rifles, which are all accurately copied from an
original Baker rifle and very reliable, unlike the modern copies in mass-
production today as a result of our success. We have to use some modern
breechloaders for effect but they are kept well to the rear. To repeatedly
muzzleload, the number of flintlocks we use is impractical for one man to do on
our schedule! I train as many of our extras to load and fire these as I can. In
Sharpe's Eagle the firing sequences using muskets were all performed by picked
soldiers of the Ukrainian Army, trained by me. Some swords used in the fight
scenes are dummies, too. This is for safety reasons in the melees, particularly
with any number of horses around. The principals in the fight scenes use their
own faithful reproductions, despite the weight of the weapons and subsequent
scars! Leroux's sword, for example, in the episode Sharpe's Sword, which I
designed and made, was based on the French Napoleonic Heavy Cavalry sword,
pommel and guard cast in solid silver, with a silver-wire grip and mirror-
polished blade, a faithful well-balanced fighting weapon that looked like it had
been proffered by the Lady of the Lake! Sharpe's sword for that episode, the
1796 British Heavy Cavalry sword, by comparison, was made by me in the
traditional way, cheap and cheerful. It split a log lengthways during my trials
of the finished weapon.
Philipp:- What is it like to look back on?
Richard:- I have some wonderful memories of comradeship, successes over
logistical nightmares and working in weather situations that would make some re-
enactors toes curl up, particularly in the Crimea. I look at some re-enactors
and historians now with a jaundiced eye. One group I know, in the face of all
historical evidence to the contrary, persistently portray soldiers at war in
this period as always living in ridge-tents, wearing spotless tailor-made full
regulation uniforms at all times (always with plenty of food and wood, going off
to the pub at night, using cheap unreliable weapons and who have never fired one
'live' round, know nought about soldiers life and yet call themselves a 'living
history unit') and then criticise my interpretations as a re-enactor! We do go
towards reality on Sharpe; here men are fictional, but they are based on FACT;
they do NOTHING which isn't possible with their weapons. I've done it all myself
and they are professionals NOT amateurs. I'm not suggesting everybody become
like Sharpe, men like that don't live long. As in real life we aren't bullet or
sword-proof in the army and live our lives performing duties which involve doing
necessary trivial things, but they certainly AREN'T wimps blindly obeying rules
in the face of adversity and looking at all times like a picture on a chocolate
box. I had before, and increased by Sharpe, a weight of practical experience to
complement the years of research when forming opinions as an advisor. I also use
a lot of the inspiration from past reenactment characters and incidents in
Sharpe. Need to describe an ill-mannered selfish British officer to someone, or
a typical French grognard? Just pick existing people. A lot of the 'asides' we
shoot as part of Sharpe come straight from re-enactment experiences I've had
with the NA over the last twenty or so years, and one or two have 'recognised'
We film Sharpe episodes come Hell or High Water, tie knots and just keep
going... I had two EXCELLENT teachers in Bonaparte and Wellington! If we'd
listened to the Establishment at first who said it 'can't be done' or
'impossible' (particularly in the Crimea) we'd still be back on the drawing
boards. As a measure of support for what we've tried to do, when I asked re-
enactors if they'd like to come and help us with Sharpe's Regiment in 1995, we
were SWAMPED with applications from all re-enacting periods! It is comforting to
know you have this tremendous support from colleagues marching with you. I try
to get as many of them actively involved with Sharpe and other projects as I
can, as in the past we've found them infinitely more helpful than most
'official' channels and museums.
Philipp:- What are the future plans?
Richard:- We have not marched all the way from Rolica to stop now. There is a
muddy ridge a few miles south of Brussels ready to play host to Sharpe and his
riflemen's ultimate destiny. Later this year filming will begin.
TESTING SHARPE'S RIFLE
The Baker Rifle is the special weapon of Sharpe and his comrades, but how does
it work in reality? RICHARD MOORE and PHILIPP ELLIOT-WRIGHT explore the
performance of this legendary gun.
If the dark rifle green uniforms of Major Richard Sharpe and his men are what
distinguishes them from their fellow redcoats, their Baker rifles provide their
raison d'etre. In Sharpe, considerable artistic licence is used to enhance the
rifle's almost mythic status. Consistent edits ensure viewers see little or none
of the tedious reloading process, just dramatic muzzleblasts. When the viewer
does witness the occasional Baker Rifle being reloaded in action, invariably
this is achieved by instant tap-loading rather than the use of the ramrod. As
armourer as well as historic advisor to Sharpe, Richard Moore's interest has
been triggered into investigating the reality versus the portrayed myth. With
decades of practical experience as a reenactor to build on, Richard has explored
the technical requirements of actually loading and firing the Baker rifle.
Smoothbore muskets of the Napoleonic era were loaded by the soldier biting off
the end of the cartridge to prime the pan, pouring powder into the barrel, and
then shoving the empty cartridge, bullet-end last, into the bore. The result was
that the ball stayed on top of the charge (which wasn't unduly compressed) and
didn't roll down the bore and cause the barrel to burst upon firing. Windage
(the gap between bore wall and bullet) was partially eliminated and the ball
when fired deviated from point-of-aim with a 'comet-tail' of smouldering
cartridge paper still attached when it exited the muzzle.
Experiments Richard performed using a 'kleener' wad or a patch showed a marked
increase in accuracy when loaded in this way using the same propellant charge in
the same gun. Suggestions by some nonmuzzleloaders (and sadly, some re-enactors)
that the ball was dropped onto the charge, and the cartridge paper inserted as a
'wad' to keep it in place - 'running ball' as sentries were often found to do to
save a lengthy ball-pulling process when coming off duty - are INCORRECT: fired
in this way the muzzle velocity was very low; the windage was such as to ignite
the cartridge paper on top of the ball (Richard picked up on several of these
during experimentation of this process) and the range of the ball was
consequently short. There were short cuts to this procedure, all of which,
although possible, were dangerous and usually quite inefficient... Richard tried
them all 'live'.
The powder horn issued to Riflemen of the 95th was NOT just for priming as
popularly believed - surviving examples had common tops or 'Irish' chargers that
were made to deliver a measured charge for the rifle, and were used in that
Patches held in the butt-trap of the rifle could gum it up with tallow and cause
the lid to stick; they were also convenient except for storage. Richard held his
with the loose ball in the small ball-bag on the waist belt (a surviving bag in
Richmond Museum clearly shows use of this kind). If Richard could EVER find a
reference to a match knife or a ball-starter being used by a Napoleonic
rifleman, Richard would pre-patch them beforehand.
The wiping-eye that came with the rifle was NOT just for cleaning it out - the
bore had to be wiped regularly during action to avoid a build-up of powder
residue. Richard tried unsuccessfully for a long time to find a method of using
the rifle with paper cartridges to get anything like accuracy. It was not
possible - the problem that led to the issue of mallets was that the balls
supplied in early times were those from moulds for ammunition for cavalry
carbines; too wide to permit an easy transition down the rifle bore. Beating the
end of the ramrod with a mallet merely deformed the ball so as to render it
inaccurate in flight. When a correct-sized ball was issued the mallets were
superfluous and a 'man's strength found sufficient to load' - but unpatched the
ball suffered in the same way as in the smoothbore.
Loading the rifle with cartridge was done in the same way as above. Trying to
use the paper cartridge as a patch to get accuracy proved impossible in
Richard's experiments. Biting off the ball and keeping it in the mouth until the
powder was charged, then placing the ball with paper still around it into the
bore, the rod usually pushed the ball out through the base of the cartridge
still adhering to it, even when well greased or waxed, and the ball dropped down
onto powder. As a consolation, it was faster to load a rifle like this than a
musket, but the resulting accuracy was worse.
2. NEWSPAPER AND MAGAZINE ARTICLES
Sean Bean. A bona fide British film stud who says he is happiest with his wife
and kids and playing footie in the park. Emma Forrest on the double life of the
people's James Bond.
ON ME 'EAD SON
Sean Bean is mulling over what he'd like to do if he weren't one of the hottest
actors to come out of Britain since Michael Caine: "I'd probably be a landscape
gardener. I like gardening - rockeries and that." This man does not sound how he
looks. The star of Sharpe, Patriot Games and the smash hit Bond movie Goldeneye
has an epic face to rival both the young Paul Newman and Marlon Brando. The deep
green eyes, the noble nose, the jutting jaw - his face looks like it should be
carved on the side of Mount Rushmore. Then he goes and opens his gob. "I do like
a nice pie at the football match. Lots of gravy. Nice and juicy."
Sean Bean is the proverbial beautiful blonde who opens her mouth to reveal a
tiny squeaky voice. Except it's a broad Sheffield brogue, throaty and coarse.
But even if his accent were a scar, try as you might, you wouldn't be able to
take your eyes off it. People warn you about it in advance -like telling you how
tiny Kylie Minogue really is, or how muscular Madonna is, or how polite The
Manic Street Preachers are, but it still comes as a shock. Patriot Games and
Goldeneye, the films that brought him to the cineplex masses, saw him playing,
respectively, an Irish terrorist and an immaculately-spoken London spy. Unlike
say, Bob Hoskins or Sean Connery, who are recognisable almost the moment they
open their mouths, Bean's on-screen accent is often as far from his own as it is
humanly possible to get... "Oh, aye," he smiles. "You don't want to be playing
the same role with the same accent over and over again. It would be boring. "
The accent goes hand in hand with the other top rumour about Sean Bean:
according to the scandal-mongerers, he's (brace yourself now) completely and
utterly... normal. He's happily married to Melanie Hill, the Bread star he met
at RADA. They have two kids, Lorna (8) and Molly (4). They live in Totteridge, a
London suburb. Sean would like to get a dog, but he's not sure that they have
It's not that there's anything wrong with all this, far from it; it's just not
what we've come to expect from an industry that cited Kevin Costner as the most
happily married, normal man in Hollywood, until he left his wife for a Hula girl
and made a film about half-fish men racing each other across the ocean on
Living in LA for three months whilst filming Patriot Games doesn't seem to have
had any adverse effect on young Sean, I muse as I watch him cheerily bounce a
football on his knee for the Sky Magazine photo-shoot, oblivious to the pelting
rain. We're talking about the town where fellow thespian Elizabeth Taylor once
claimed that Michael Jackson was the most normal person she had ever met and,
sadly, you knew she was telling the truth.
And there sits Sean expressing, over a pint of bitter, a deep admiration for The
Beautiful South's Paul Heaton. Bean is one of those people who's so shy, you
sometimes wonder if they're just being rude. When he does blurt something out,
about pies or Paul Heaton, you might think he's inarticulate, but he is not that
either. He simply has a very real sense of his job, which is to act, full stop.
He rants against lottery money going to the Royal Opera House -"what about
hospitals and schools? Look at the way the health service has been ground down.
Look at the way Thatcher destroyed communities by closing down the mines,
destroying everything these people had. And their money goes to fund the Opera
House." Yet he gets uncomfortable when I ask him specifically which way he
"I think that's my business. Just because I vote a certain way, doesn't mean
anyone else should. With all due respect," which is a phrase that always sounds
incredibly disrespectful, "I don't think it's anything to do with you."
Bean has no truck with this 'I really must bond with the interviewer and reveal
my soul' malarky. Whilst remaining very polite, he'd clearly rather be somewhere
else. Preferably, at a match. For someone who has made a career out of playing
lusty, troubled brutes, he often seems curiously passionless. The only time he
gets truly excited is when he's talking about football. He is a rabid supporter
of the down-on-their-luck Sheffield United.
"It's a social thing as much as anything else -it gives you a routine. It
happens on a Saturday, you talk about it on a Sunday. It's a working-class game.
I hope," he sneers, "it never turns into a fancy, middle-class puffball game."
He's very serious about his team -and so isn't amused when I ask why Sheffield
Wednesday are called Sheffield Wednesday and what, exactly, it is that happens
on a Wednesday? "They lose," he says softly. Since United have had few moments
of victory since 1904, I theorise that his supporting them is a means of
clinging to working-class glory and that supporting a team that habitually loses
is the ultimate male statement. He's thrown.
"You talking about me?" he grins, and then, realising that he's dealing with a
football ignoramus, tries, very slowly to explain. "They are the fans I admire
most. Anyone who's born in an area should stick by their own team where they
were born, not just support the nearest big city that's doing well. I know
someone from Newcastle who supports Manchester United. It is..." he chooses his
words, "morally wrong."
His latest project, then, must have seemed like manna from heaven. When Saturday
Comes is the story of Jimmy Muir, a Sheffield factory worker who dreams of
playing for United. and. inspired by the love of Emily Lloyd, lives the dream.
It's produced by fellow Sheffield native, James Daly, whose previous credits
include Highlander 2 and Highlander 3, and it is obviously something of a labour
of love. Lloyd is shockingly bad but the film itself is small but quietly
charming and Bean is terrific.
"When James Daly got in touch with me, I thought it were a joke. It were called
A Pint Of Bitter, set in Sheffield and about a lad who gets to play football for
United. I said: 'Bollocks.' But it were true."
When Saturday Comes also found him in the strange position of having his wife
play his sister. "It were brilliant. I could tell her to iron me shirt which I
can't get away with at home."
Whether the movie will do anything in America remains to be seen. It is as
English as Alfie, Billy Liar or Saturday Night, Sunday Morning - Bean's
"British films were great then. People weren't having to pander to Hollywood. I
hope that's coming back. Hollywood often gets it so wrong. In Patriot Games,
Harrison Ford were knighted just before he went into court. I couldn't believe
it. The Americans do get it wrong half the time. They make good films though."
In When Saturday Comes, Jimmy Muir finds himself held back by his mates, who
don't want to see him succeed. They believe he belongs with them in the mine.
Which begs the question: what did Bean's friends say when he announced he was
moving to London to attend RADA?
"It's not really the done thing in Sheffield. I suppose they thought I were a
fairy. I don't want to make a fuss about it, that's the way I like it. I were
going to be a welder for my Dad's company in Sheffield. That's what he wanted me
to do, but I weren't cut out for it. I think all things considered, it's turned
out pretty well." Indeed. Following the success of Goldeneye, When Saturday
Comes opens next month and he is also set to star opposite Sophie Marceau in
Anna Karenina. Sharpe is back on ITV for another series and Bean has just formed
a production company with James Daly and his co-star, Pete Postlethwaite. What
do his family make of his success?
"My kids get used to seeing me on the telly and it's no big deal anymore. It's
usually me saying 'Look I'm on the telly,' and they say, 'Yeah dad, what are we
having for tea?' It's just a job at the end of the day. "
With his own production company, Bean should play the roles he deserves.
Although he played the Bond baddy to marvellous effect, his performance is so
skilful, it makes Pierce Brosnan look even more nervous and out of his depth
than he really is. Why is he playing second banana to a nerdy-faced Irishman? My
guess is Bean's beauty is too intense for Hollywood to deal with. Their ideal of
an English man is a floppy-haired, bashful, twitchy, upper-class twit, ie Hugh
Grant. Until they bend the rules, Bean won't get the roles he ought. Like Jeremy
Irons, he merits better than playing the villain in another action flick. "Maybe
they don't like their own lads doing the dirty work," he ponders.
His best work has been for the BBC - from Julie Burchill's Prince, through Lady
Chatterley to the acclaimed Clarissa, in which he played the cruel rake,
Lovelace. Although the embodiment of evil, Sean also managed to give the
character a tragic edge. Despite imprisoning Clarissa in a whorehouse, raping
her and breaking her will, Bean made you believe that Lovelace really was in
love with her. It caused the same I uncomfortable feeling as watching
Schindler's List and realising you find Ralph Fiennes attractive, even though
he's playing a Nazi.
He'd like to do more work along the lines of Clarissa. "It were a great series
to do," he says. "I like 18th century literature. There seemed to be some kind
of order and morality then."
The truth is, juicy pies or no juicy pies, there simply isn't a better actor
around. It makes you wonder why? Without wanting to sound, as Sean would put it,
"like a ponce," you get the feeling that he is driven by things beyond his
control. Alan Rickman has that same dangerous, but often sympathetic quality but
you know if you spoke to him he'd be intellectual and actorly. Sean Bean is the
Noel Gallagher of acting -whereas you imagine Damon Albarn worries and frets
over every line, you know Noel would just do it.
So Bean gets a little touchy about politics. But really, when every other actor
wants a piece of the political scene, from Vanessa Redgrave preaching about
Palestine, to Richard Gere getting cred from the crisis in Tibet, that's really
pretty cool. An actor who recognises the limitations of his profession. Wow.
In the limo back to Totteridge, he talks excitedly about the shoot he's doing
for Viz magazine. "This lad is going to go into the hairdressers and ask to look
like Sean Bean, then I come out."
He tells us that since tonight is his wife's birthday, he's taking her and the
kids to see Le Cirque Du LA. I ask him if he means the acclaimed Cirque Du
Soleil? "Eh, that's it." And, of course, he gabbles with glee because he's going
to watch his beloved United play on Saturday. One final question. Could you be
friends with someone who didn't care about football? "Yeah, course I could." He
pauses before adding, "I'd think they were a bit strange, like."
THE LEADER OF THE PACK
by Alison Bowyer
14-20 NOVEMBER 1992
It was Britain's biggest robbery - ú26million of gold bullion stolen from a
warehouse near Heathrow. As ITV recreates the drama and action in Saturday's
film, Sean Bean talks about his role as gangleader Micky McAvoy
Sean Bean's star couldn't be shining more brightly than it is right now. The
Yorkshire-born actor has starring roles in three new major television
programmes. And he has caught the attention of Hollywood with his powerful
portrayal of a vengeful Irish terrorist in Harrison Ford's latest film Patriot
Bean, 33, has gone from one gripping drama to another in the past two years.
Last year he starred in two BBC screenplays, Tell Me That You Love Me and
Prince. He went on to portray aristocratic rake Lovelace in the BBC's period
drama Clarissa and then moved to Los Angeles for three months to film Patriot
He has just finished filming one of the sexiest roles in English literature -
gamekeeper Mellors in Ken Russell's ú4million adaptation of Lady Chatterley's
Lover for the BBC - and in between he fitted in his starring role in Fool's
Gold, ITV's film about the Brink's-Mat bullion raid.
'It has all happened so quickly, jumping from one thing to another,' says Bean
as he prepares to travel to Russia to star in Central TV's film Sharpe's Rifles,
which is set in the Napoleonic Wars.
Bean had little time to study for his role as Brink's-Mat mastermind Micky
McAvoy. 'I only found out I was going to be doing the film a week before
shooting so I had to do a crash course. I read a book all about the robbery and
then tried to gather as much information as I possibly could.'
He found playing a young man sentenced to 25 years in jail very depressing. 'It
made me feel what it would be like to go to prison. I can't imagine being shut
up in a cell for 25 years.
'I know the writers didn't want the public to feel sorry for McAvoy but you
can't help it. I felt sorry for him because he was stitched up by his friends.
The fact that he didn't grass on his mates makes him a bigger character than the
rest of them.'
Bean himself was stitched up - literally - while filming Patriot Games.
'One scene called for me and Harrison Ford to have a fight and I got caught by a
boat-hook just below my eyebrow. It cut my eye open and I had to have eight
stitches. It was just before I started Lady Chatterley's Lover and caused a few
problems for the make-up department.'
Bean, married to actress Melanie Hill who played Aveline in Bread, is flying to
Portugal at the end of the month after filming Shape's Rifles near the Black Sea
in the Crimea. He hopes to be home with his family for Christmas.
But with two small daughters how does he cope with long periods away from home?
'I obviously miss the children because they are growing up so fast now. Lorna is
five and has just started school and Molly is one. I don't think they believe me
when I say I'm going away - they think I am just going to Sheffield to watch a
football match. They can't understand the sense of time when I say I am off for
weeks or months. When I was filming Patriot Games Melanie and the girls flew out
to see me halfway through and we all went to Disneyland, which was very nice.
'But you get used to being away from your family after a while. That's my job.
You can't really turn down a couple of months in Russia playing a good part and
getting well-paid for it.'
And Bean, a keen supporter of his home football team Sheffield United, adds:
'Another thing I'll miss is going to see the team play. I just might get Melanie
to video their games for me and send the tapes out to Russia!'
Being so much in demand means he has no idea when he will have time for a
holiday. 'Who knows, maybe I will have a holiday after the next job. I always
say that but then something else comes along.
'But I am enjoying it. It is great to know what you are going to be doing for
the next few months and they have all been really tremendous parts.'
WHAT HAPPENED TO THE BRINK'S-MAT GANG
The ú26million Brink's-Mat bullion raid on 26 November 1983 was Britain's
biggest robbery. Tony Black, the gang's man on the inside at the security
warehouse near Heathrow Airport, supplied a copy of a doorkey so that the
raiders could let themselves in. He switched off the door's alarm and diverted
another guard's attention when the gang struck.
A team under Flying Squad Commander Frank Cater (who does not feature in Fool's
Gold) caught the robbers within three weeks. Only 11 of the 6800 gold bars
stolen have been found - the rest were probably melted down.
At the trial in 1984 gang ringleader Micky McAvoy was found guilty of robbery
and jailed for 25 years. He won't be eligible for parole until the year 2000.
Brian Robinson was also found guilty of robbery and sentenced to 25 years. Like
McAvoy, he won't be eligible for parole until the year 2000.
Black was released in 1986 after serving two years of a six-year sentence for
his part in the crime. He is now living under an assumed identity because it was
his information which enabled police to nail the gang.
In 1985 Kenneth Noye was found not guilty of murdering Detective Constable John
Fordham while under police surveillance for his suspected involvement in the
crime. In 1986 he was convicted of handling Brink's-Mat gold and jailed for 14
years, reduced to 13 on appeal.
In August this year mini cab operator Brian Perry, on whom the fictional Jimmy
Kimpton's character in Fool's Gold was largely based, was convicted of
conspiracy to handle proceeds from the robbery and jailed for nine years.
INSIDE STORY OF FOOL'S GOLD
ITV's Fool's Gold is based on existing records and conversations with people
connected with the robbery, but director Terry Winsor and producer Jeff Pope
stress that the truth about the robbery is 'as elusive as the gold itself.'
Despite the capture and conviction on the gang's leaders the gold has remained
beyond the police's grasp. In fact, it is possible anyone who bought jewellery
in Britain after 1984 is wearing some of the Brink's-Mat gold.
Says Pope: 'I remember the robbery because at the time I was living near
Heathrow but I didn't follow what happened and wasn't even aware that anyone had
'I read a magazine article about how next year will be the 10th anniversary of
the crime and how most of the gold has never been found, and thought it would be
a good idea for a film.
'Brink's-Mat wasn't a clever crime because the robbers were caught quite easily.
What I found fascinating was the inside story - the intrigue, and double-
crossing between friends.
'It is not a documentary and doesn't religiously follow events, but there isn't
a scene which does not have a reference in fact. We were anxious not to glorify
crime and didn't want people to feel sorry for the men who were caught and sent
'We wanted the scene where they break into the warehouse to be as realistic as
possible - sweaty, noisy and with lots of swearing. We didn't put the swearing
in just for the sake of it - I'm sick of seeing contemporary London villains
being given more polite things to say such as "blast". We wanted it to be
violent because it was violent.'
The film was made on location in London and Spain and cost less than ú500,000.
WHO'S IN THE DARING RAlD
A ruthless south London gang with an inside man at the Brink's-Mat security
warehouse near Heathrow plot a daring raid. Striking early in the morning, they
pour petrol over the guards and threaten to set them alight if they refuse to
open the safe.
The robbers expect to find a million pounds in cash. Instead, and by pure
chance, they discover that three tons of gold bullion destined for South-East
Asia have been placed in the safe overnight. Their haul is worth ú26million and
the problem now is how to get rid of it...
The hard man ringleader of the gang. After going on a few robberies as a 'hired
help' he vows to go it alone and mastermind his own robbery. He targets the
Brink's-Mat warehouse, where his gang has a man on the inside.
He displays terrifying aggression and arrogance and is certain of his
One of McAvoy's accomplices, Robinson is the gang's schemer and thinker. He
helps to plan the robbery and goes with McAvoy on the raid.
Mild-mannered Kimpton is one of McAvoy's best friends, brought in to help him
move the gold. But Kimpton will later turn against him.
Slick businessman Noye is the man Kimpton goes to when he wants to move the
gold. Noye has facilities to melt down the gold and re-stamp it so that it can
be moved on.
Security guard Black is the man on the inside of the robbery. He doesn't really
realise what he is getting into. A nervous man, he is totally out of his depth
when dealing with tough crooks such as McAvoy.
DEPUTY ASSISTANT COMMISSIONER BRIAN WORTH
DETECTIVE CHIEF SUPERINTENDENT BRIAN BOYCE
The policemen determined to get the bullion back. They try to do a deal with
McAvoy in an effort to trace the thousands of gold bars which disappeared.
FEBRUARY 24, 1996
Sheffield United fans get a rare treat next week with the world premiere of a
film about their team, starring Blades fanatic Sean bean. Tony Earnshaw and Eric
It's not much fun, being a Sheffield United fan. Pete Whitney, who has followed
the Blades for over 50 years, is hard pressed to remember the last time they won
something. "It would be the Fourth Division championship, I think."
Lack of success on the field has been accompanied by off-field ructions. It's
hard to take when your chairman is accused first of insider dealing, then of
avoiding his legal responsibilities in India, and for years makes no secret of
the fact that he's wanting to sell the club, letting the best player go to Leeds
in the meantime.
Then there's the new stand, ending the years when Bramall Lane was a three-sided
ground, sharing the pitch with Yorkshire's cricketers. A few years among the
giants of the premier league would pay for that, the fans were told. But though
the team clawed its way out of the relegation zone, it still went down to the
dying seconds of the season.
Blades fans are a resilient lot - 10,000 of them turn out through thin and thin,
in hail, rain and snow, in the hope of an occasional treat like this season's FA
cup victory over Arsenal.
"It has been a long time since I heard people coming out of the ground saying
what a marvellous match they had seen, as they did that day," says Pete Whitney,
chairman of the Supporters' Club executive.
The fans deserve a treat, and they are about to get one with the world premiere
in Sheffield on Tuesday of the moving When Saturday Comes, a piece of escapism
which glorifies Sheffield United and should help boost the image of a city which
has suffered almost as badly as the soccer team.
It stars Sean Bean, whose commitment to his favourite team is so fanatical that
the authenticity of his nude scenes in TV's Lady Chatterley's Lover was ruined
by the "100 per cent Blade" tattoo clearly visible on his arm.
Bean, a superstar and sex symbol in the spare time he gets from supporting
United, plays a working class lad who beats the odds to make it to the soccer
big time and gain a place in his beloved team.
For Bean, 36, making the film was a dream come true. Not only did he get to wear
the United strip and live out his fantasy of playing on the hallowed Bramall
Lane turf, he also trained with the players.
"One of the highlights of doing this film has been pulling the Blades' strip on
and running out onto the field at Sheffield United. It was a fantastic feeling,
something I thought I'd never be able to do.
"When I was young, I had dreams about playing for Sheffield. This is the closest
I'll ever get to realising that ambition."
The story, originally called A Pint O' Bitter, was written by the film's co-
producer, James Daly, another Sheffielder, with Bean in mind to play the central
Through sponsorship deals and the help of former United manager, Dave Bassett,
who allowed them to use the ground for free, they were able to make the movie on
a low budget - less than ú2m.
For Sean Bean, the role of Jimmy Muir was almost too close to home. In the
movie, the 15-year-old Muir is given a career choice: the pits or the beer-pump
A decade on, he's assembling beer pumps, but dreams of being a professional
soccer player with Sheffield United. It's not giving away the plot to say that
he eventually makes it.
The young Sean Bean could have gone the same way. As a teenager he worked as an
apprentice welder with his father before taking the plunge and studying drama at
Rotherham College of Art.
His work there led to his winning and passing an audition for RADA, where he won
a fistful of awards, including the Silver Medal.
For him, like the character of Jimmy Muir, things could have turned out very
As it is, Bean is riding the crest of a wave.
The past 12 months have been one of the most intense periods of his career. He
started When Saturday Comes only days after returning from the Ukraine where he
had been shooting three Sharpe films for Carlton Television, and after
completing the Sheffield film, he went straight into the Bond adventure
GoldenEye, playing the lead villain.
But it's When Saturday Comes which obviously means the most to him.
He sees it not just as his dream part, but also as an important event for
Sheffield. "Certain parts of other films have been made in Sheffield, but I
don't think a feature film on this scale has been made there before.
"It was quite emotional to go back to the place where you were born and brought
up. I left there to come down to London 15 years ago. I never realised that one
day I might go back to play the part of a Sheffield lad in a film about
Sheffield United. It was a very moving experience."
His enthusiasm for the project prompted him to take a much lower fee than he
would normally accept, and has led him to form a film production company Steel
City Productions, with Daly and Pete Postlethwaite, another of the film's stars,
to make other movies in the area.
"I did the film because is was something I felt very strongly about. It was a
labour of love in a way. I've always wanted to go back and do something in
Sheffield, a feature film if possible, and that's what we've done.
"Hopefully we'll be able to maintain that and in the future explore it and do
other projects in Sheffield and the Yorkshire area. There's a lot of talent up
here and a lot of support for films.
"You've got your costume dramas, but there's another aspect to life which is
just as valuable and that's up north. With Steel City Productions, we are trying
to consolidate on what we have achieved already, to try and bring a bit of the
film industry up to Yorkshire."
Sean will be in Sheffield on Tuesday for the premiere at Meadowhall, when his
parents Rita and Brian will be among the guests.
"I've lived in London for 15 years, but I've never really lost my affinity for
Sheffield or Yorkshire in general. I've always made a point of coming back up to
watch the matches and see family and friends. It's a release valve.
"I can sit down and relax with my friends. They treat me as a mate rather than
'Sean Bean - star'. I can talk about old times, when we were at school.... It
keeps my feet on the ground.
"You can forget that there is another life and it's a tougher life than the one
I live now. I don't ever want to lose sight of that."
Back in that tougher existence, Pete Whitney of the Supporters Club is delighted
at the favourable publicity Bean and the movie are bringing the club he has
followed since he was a lad.
"We were never allowed to mention the words Sheffield Wednesday in the house,"
he says. "It's an inbred thing."
In fact, the excitement almost rivals that of the days when Tony Currie -
featured in the movie - used to play. "It was a great period," he recalls. "Mind
you, we never won anything then, either. But hopefully, we will be on our way
Subject: Report from the field - Bernard Cornwell
The following was written by Julie Kimpton, who attended a book signing in
Nottingham, England in early June, 1997.
We travelled to Nottingham by car, arriving at our friends house with
plenty of time to spare. After a few of the inevitable, but good-humoured
jibes about "fans" and " sad people in anoraks", this same friend was
happily recruited into the Bernard Cornwell book-signing party. After a
quick cup of tea, we travelled into Nottingham City centre by bus and
arrived at Waterstone's about 10 minutes before 6 P.M.
There didn't appear to be crowds of people milling about, in fact, the store
looked quite empty. However, after a microsecond worrying that maybe I had
got my dates wrong, we finally saw the posters and publicity shots from the
T.V. series. After feigning interest in the maps and local history section
while we gathered our bearings, Bill, (the long suffering and completely
innocent husband in this case m'lud) came to tell us that everyone was
"sitting around the corner". So, inevitably we "went around the corner" and
found a large number of chairs laid out classroom-style and rapidly filling
with people. Most of them seemed to have bought a copy of the book [Sharpe's
Tiger], or were queuing to do so: some were clutching a veritable army of books-
-paperbacks, hardbacks, the whole gamut of Bernard Cornwell's work was
represented. I dutifully purchased my books, and stood at the back of the room,
since by this time all the seats had been filled. I saw that Chris Clarke from
the Sharpe Apprciation Society was there, sitting at the very front of the room,
but apart from that there was no one else that I recognised.
A few minutes after six a member of Waterstone's staff introduced Bernard
Cornwell, and he appeared to loud applause and cheering as it was
announced that "Sharpe's Tiger" had entered the best-seller list at number
one. After thanking everyone for coming, he reminded the audience that
Christmas was not so far away, and that a copy of a Bernard Cornwell novel
was just the thing for a maiden aunt's or mother's birthday. He spoke for
approximately 25 minutes, largely about the background history of the fourth
Mysore war and his research for the novel.
He said that originally he had not wanted to write this book, or was very
dubious about doing so because the partnership between Sharpe and Harper would,
of course be impossible. Fortunately, the plot was already half formed -- most
readers would know something of Sharpe's early adventures in India from the
other novels, and of course, there was the absolute gift of Sgt Hakeswill. He
found it impossible to think of obnoxious Obadiah in any other form than that of
Pete Postlethwaite nowadays, and when Obadiah spoke, the words just flowed
off the page. In the end, the book had been very easy to write. It felt
right, was right and he was certain that we would all enjoy it.
He admitted that he does not see all of his characters in terms of the TV
series, but, after some prompting from the audience, admitted that Sean Bean
is, like Pete Postlethwaite, the only way he can now see the character.
Certain incongruities have to be ignored - Sharpe's hair, and London
background - just call it "authors license". He had been asked this so many
times. Other things turn out to be major problems and have to be "fudged".
Most of us know that Sharpe learned to read while imprisoned in the Tippoo
Sultan's dungeons, but in reality, if he was to be involved in the fighting
at all, Sharpe could only have stayed there for about two days!! To Get
round this, the author does not mention a time span, and, as he says
"fudges" the issue.
Mysore is a very beautiful city, in Karnataka state (I can vouch for this,
having stayed there a couple of years ago) and Seringapatam, Tippoo Sultan's
capital, is only a few miles away; but Bernard had carried out the research
for the novel at the same time of year as the original campaign, when the
weather is hot, humid and very, very dusty. River levels are at their
lowest - this was just before the monsoon - and in the interests of accuracy
he decided to cross the river before the defensive works of Seringapatam,
just as Wellesley's troops had done. Unable to understand why someone was
shouting loudly at him "Sahib, Sahib!", he ignored the shouts and carried on
wading through the shallow waters. The shouting continued, and eventually
he turned back, expecting someone to be trying to sell him something, or
tell him that he was trespassing, when the urgent voice called out loudly;
"Sahib!-Crocodiles!!". He left the river very, very rapidly.
Most of the research for the new Sharpe's novel has been completed. This
will take Sgt Sharpe to the siege of Gawilghur; and the novel after this one
will lead to his battlefield commission at Assaye. So, fans, there is plenty
to keep us Sharpe fans occupied for the forseeable future!
I wish that I could have taken notes, and remembered everything that Mr
Cornwell said. Much of his talk was about the Mysore campaign and the
attributes or otherwise of the Tippoo Sultan and Colonel Wellesley. His
research is detailed and meticulous, and I found the details of how he goes
about this process fascinating. I can vouch for the accuracy of these
details, having visited several of the locations in his books: his
description of the City of Salamanca, for example, in Sharpe's sword, is one
of the best travel guides to that city that I could recommend!
Finally, the author acknowlegded his debt to the TV series and the cast and
crew of Sharpe in the success that his novels are now enjoying. He admitted
that it is extremely difficult for an author to find a market and make
(substantial) amounts of money for his work, and he is, of course extremely
glad that in this case he has done just that! He does not spend inordinate
amounts of time in research, but loves the process of writing - thats what he
is, after all! - and the way that the characters write their own script.
Sharpe, obviously, has taken on a life of his own.
A question and answer session then followed, some of which were about Sharpe
and some about the author's other work. Finally Bernard pointed out Chris
Clarke, "a woman who has nagged me and nagged me...", and recommended that
anyone interested should contact her to join the Sharpe Appreciation
Society, that they would be holding events throughout the UK, and we should
all support them and buy some more books. Then, we all formed an orderly
queue, and waited to have our precious purchases signed by the author. He is
a charming man, a useful attribute in an author anxious to maximise sales
of his books....and he certainly has a winning way with his audience. He
signed a copy of my book, and was happy to accept a letter from Nona passed on
via me about the website. He has heard of us, and promised he would try to
contact us. It wasn't the time or place to become deeply involved in
conversation as other people were waiting, but I believe he fully intends to do
this. Watch this space!!!
We had a short chat with Chris Clarke before we left, passing on good wishes
between the terrestrial and wired Bean worlds, and then left for a well deserved
hamburger and chips..clutching books and a very large Sharpe's Tiger poster that
Bill had salvaged for me. Loot, and well deserved. Mission two accomplished.
PS: My friend has now asked to borrow all the books. (Resistance is useless.
You will be assimilated!!)
Review of Anna Karenina - by Holly Hutchinson
The trailer for "Anna Karenina" (which was made available for download at
the film's Web site) is brilliant: an excellent summary of the story,
passionate, exciting, engaging, masterfully edited and superbly scored.
So, what happened?
Well, let's keep in mind that when you've got more than 120 minutes of film
to work with, anyone can cull out 2 minutes worth of scenes and put them
together into an exciting montage with a driving soundtrack. "Anna"'s
trailer is an interesting object lesson in how a studio can use the editing
process to produce a trailer that creates whatever impression they want of
a film. In this case, though, they went one better: "Anna"'s trailer is,
really, the perfect "Cliff Notes" version of the story. It encapsulates
the important attitudes and goals of all the main characters (excepting
Levin and Kitty, of course): Anna is luminous and tragic, Vronsky is
passionate and careless of consequences, Karenin is cold and despicable,
and Vronsky's mother, standing in for the rest of Russian society, is
disdainful and contemptuous.
Would that these elements could have remained as clear cut in the
As a qualification: personally, I tend to be a stickler for adaptations of
literary works. If a book is good, I tend not to understand why one would
substantially change details or sequences from it for a film adaptation (I
mean, if it worked in the book...). So my reaction to this film was
colored in many places by my regret that the adaptation was not as faithful
as I would have desired; that makes it very subjective. I think there are
places in which I'm right (that a closer hewing to the book would have made
things in the movie that came out muddled be clearer and more
comprehensible), and there are places in which I'm just being picky.
But it wasn't a bad film. It was an enjoyable film. It's important to
state this, because when you get into minute nit-picking, it can sound like
an accusation that the film was terrible. I didn't think it was. What I
thought was that the film did not live up to the potential inherent in the
idea of a film adapation of Tolstoy's novel, given all the advantages that
filmmaker Bernard Rose had to work with. I took my partner, who's much
pickier about films than I am (and who's also not a knee-jerk Sean Bean
fan; "why do you always go for these scrawny little British guys?" is I
believe her take on the whole thing), and whose speciality is literary
critique and who therefore tends to be a much harsher judge of such things;
and even she admitted that she enjoyed the film. I was surprised by this;
talk about your acid tests. Also interesting: I'd read the book; she had
So, enjoyable, yes. But, flawed, yes, unfortunately.
I would have to come down on the side of people who thought that Sophie
Marceau's Anna was not all that effective (for my tastes). Yes, I thought
her accent detracted a bit; there were times where I knew what she was
saying not because I could understand her, but because I simply knew what
Anna was supposed to be saying at that point. Judith, my partner, was more
confused by some of her mutterings. Accent aside, though, what I felt she
lacked most of all was a convincing portrayal of her reciprocal feelings
for Vronsky, and any passion for him or for the idea of a life with him. I
found her totally convincing in the displays of other emotions: her love
for and delight in her child, for example; or her anguish, or her anger, or
her growing paranoia and dementia and despair. I felt she did very well
with all these things.
But I was disappointed in the early scenes by her ambiguity when
approaching her passion. Oddly, when she is telling Vronsky "Stop it; go
away. This mustn't go on." I was BELIEVING her, that she meant it. I
wasn't getting from her a subtext (present in the book, which, naturally,
delves at length into what she is thinking) of "I'm saying this because
it's what I ought to say; not because it's what I feel. I'm confused."
But even in that category, I'm willing to consider the idea that I simply
wasn't connecting with the cues the actress was trying to use to
communicate these feelings.
I felt that Sean did well enough, but, that he had several strikes against
him as Vronsky. He was a fine Vronsky, from my point of view; but then,
I'm pre-disposed to regard him as sufficiently dashing and romantic and all
that. I felt that, unfortunately, he got stuck with what sounded like an
awful lot of Tolstoy's original dialogue for Vronsky, and while that works
well enough in the book, it doesn't go far towards making him sound very
natural in the movie. Whatever else we can say for Tolstoy, he's no
screenwriter. Frankly, too, I think Sean is often more successful in roles
where he brings a certain earthy genuiness to the character; and
unfortunately, that isn't Vronsky. Vronsky isn't the earthy role in this
story, Levin is.
A note about Levin in the movie: I thought the parallel story worked very
well. I liked Alfred Molina (Judith really loved him; if Sean Bean isn't
her type, Molina certainly is), and thought he did well with the role. I
was never actually annoyed when we cut away from the Anna/Vronsky storyline
to pick up Levin's.
As Vronsky's dialogue makes clear, he's meant to be dashing and romantic
(as filtered through the perceptions of what a 19th century Russian writer
thinks that means), but, he's also a bit pompous and self-satisfied and so
on. That's just his character (I don't think Tolstoy found the two things
contradictory). I don't think Sean tends to appear at his most comfortable
playing pomposity, for one thing, and for another, I don't think we, as
viewers, are looking for pomposity in our romantic heroes: a problem of
cultural and temporal translation, a problem about which nobody can do
anything. Modern viewers apply labels to Sean's Vronsky like "stilted" and
"passionless", without realizing that they are commenting on Tolstoy's
character, not on the job the actor did portraying him.
Had somebody realized earlier that Tolstoy's 19th century Russian hero
wouldn't connect with modern viewers, they might have done something about
it. Older Hollywood movies are famous for taking stories set in past
times, but giving the characters modern sensibilities; and this is derided
as being inauthentic to the story. One of Rose's goals was a more accurate
telling of Tolstoy's story, and trying too hard to achieve this goal
probably hurt Rose in a number of ways, foremost with Vronsky's character.
But Sean's Vronsky wasn't the only problem; I think there was a problem
with Sophie's Anna, too. If you look at her work in another film,
"Braveheart", you will see that she is entirely capable of a smouldering
intensity that was absent in "Anna Karenina" right where it would have done
the most good. It's not that Sophie can't do it; it's that either she
chose not to do it, or Rose suggested that she not do it: a decision was
made somewhere that Anna Karenina would not smoulder. Perhaps it was felt
that the heroine of "the greatest romantic novel of all time" should be...I
don't know, more dignified, more reticent, or something. And that was as
big a mistake as deciding that Vronsky could play the same way he was
written by Tolstoy.
Another suggestion is that the lack of passion between Anna and Vronsky had
to do with the fact that Sophie and Sean just didn't connect. I've heard
some comments reported from Sophie that might indicate this was the case.
But I think there were two other problems working against the actors.
First, I think that something -- either their own understanding of the
characters or else Bernard Rose's instructions to them -- may have
convinced them not to cut loose in this movie with the kind of passion of
which both are capable because of a mistaken idea that since they were
trying to convey the feelings of two 19th century Russians in a passionate
affair, they had to somehow do it differently than they would if they'd
been portraying a 20th century couple. This goes back to the idea of an
over-reverent adaptation. I sympathized with one reviewer who noted "What
did they think we expected, 'Danielle Steele's Anna Karenina'? Maybe that
wouldn't have been so bad..." While Tolstoy's novel is certainly a great
work of literature, that doesn't guarantee it will become a great film,
especially when so much of its greatness as a work of literature rests on
the deep psychological exploration of the characters' motivations,
something that does not translate well to film. This adaptation could have
used a good bit less reverence and more old-fashioned 20th century schmaltz.
Second, it is difficult for the viewers to really say "a lack of passion
between the two main characters" -- let's call it "a lack of apparent
passion". This film suffered hugely from the fact that much more footage
was shot than was put into the final cut. The passion may have been there.
Why did it get cut out? We'll never know.
It's ironic that the trailer for the picture was so masterfully cut and so
clearly conveyed the story, because the film suffered from two large
problems: it was much too short, and thanks to the decisions made about
what to film and how to cut it, many things came out unclearly from a
For example: the fact that Vronsky is passionately in love with Anna isn't
enough to convince an audience that he's anything more than importunate,
and so it's difficult to understand why she eventually gives in to him
rather than waiting for him to come to his senses and toddle off to court
the next beautiful woman he sees. In the book, it is vitally important to
Tolstoy to convey to us how awful Anna's life is -- how cold her
relationship is with a cynical, sarcastic and cruel husband, or how
stultifying their social life can be. However, the single scene of Anna
sitting in the opera stalls between Karenin and Lydia Ivanova wasn't
sufficient to serve as shorthand for all of Tolstoy's exploration of Anna's
Rose committed a cardinal sin of filmmaking -- he used the character of the
Princess with whom Vronsky was sitting to TELL the viewers what was going
on, rather than SHOWING us what Anna's life was like in a few judicious
scenes. (And we were so busy listening to the music and watching the
ballet that we were almost guaranteed not to hear what she said or
contemplate what it meant). Rose only included one scene -- and that a
very, very good one -- to try to communicate what Anna's life with her
husband was really like; the scene in which she and Karenin sit in a cold,
dark room, and he tells her that he missed her by saying how tiresome it is
to dine alone, and as he leaves the camera pulls away to emphasize Anna's
isolation. Yes, that was brilliant, but not enough to convince us that
Karenin was more than just a bit bad at communicating his feelings; and we
got no other scenes that would convey how trapped she was in a boring,
emotionless life with a bunch of dry, hypocritical religious fanatics, or
how her husband loves the idea of a "proper wife" much more than he loves
the person of the wife herself. In the book, one is sufficiently
convinced that Anna can use a bit of rescuing from her life; but not in the
Karenin, I thought, was a bit too sympathetic all around; in the book, I
think, the point is much more forcefully made early on what a weasel he is,
how cold he is to Anna not merely in manner but inside as well; how much
more concerned he is with his career (in contrast to Vronsky, who puts her
before his career) and how little he shares his life with her, etc. James
Fox is a great actor; but he did almost too good a job with Karenin. I
liked the fact that they didn't make Karenin repulsive; one had to believe
that Anna had married him at one time, and they'd gotten a child together.
But I thought there was insufficient points made about why, at this time in
her life, she would be so desperate to escape him and why the attention of
a man like Vronsky would so intoxicate her.
I think I read somewhere that Bernard Rose wanted to give Karenin a more
sympathetic portrayal, which is an example of some of the many decisions
that Rose made about interpretations of the characters in which he did not
seem to realize what his interpretation would do to the overall balance of
the story. People go on and on about the lack of charisma between the two
main leads, but, I think the charisma between James Fox and the audience
was equally destructive to the picture we developed of the central triangle.
And, speaking of passion -- ah, that seduction scene! Blink and you missed
it, as everyone has noted; but why were there scenes from it in the trailer
that we didn't get to see in the movie? Who on earth, at the final edit,
said "It's much more important that this movie be 3 minutes shorter, than
that we give the audience a bit more of the steamy stuff"? What idiot
forgot that sex sells, and that few people have ever complained about there
being too much of it?
I felt it was asking too much of the audience for them to remember who the
heck Lydia Ivanova was when she reappeared in Karenin's life after Vronsky
took Anna away. (I had to explain to Judith; but Lydia's first appearence
was so brief and unconnected that there was no reason to have remembered
her). And I think that this, too, was more destructive to the overall film
than the character of Ivanova would lead one to think.
Nona commented to me that she was confused when Ivanova showed up again --
"who is this, some new lover of Karenin's?" I think that the fact that
this misassumption could even be made indicates how much Rose failed with
this character, because Lydia Ivanova is not only representative of the
kind of life that Anna had with Karenin, but also is the very antithesis of
LOVE, providing yet more of a stark contrast between what Anna finds with
Vronsky, and what Karenin ends up with -- Anna gets a passionate partner,
while Karenin gets a "friend" who will order his house, and pat his hand
and encourage him in the name of "Christian feeling" to do things like tell
his son that Anna is dead. But the film neither gave Lydia Ivanova's
introduction enough weight, nor gave her additional scenes so that she
would stick with us, nor made her physically distinctive enough that the
audience would recognize her later.
I think, also, that given Tolstoy's concerns about religion as a major
theme, it was a pity to have played down Lydia and Karenin's over-concern
about religion (both as a reason for Karenin not to give Anna a divorce;
and also as their main life's work). I think Tolstoy was meaning to make a
major point about the hypocrisy of organized religions and of people who
proselytized about religion without really practicing the ideals of it
themselves; and to contrast that with Levin's personal religious journey,
upon which he discovers faith in God or a higher power, but on his own, and
not in the same way that Lydia and Karenin present themselves as being on
speaking terms with God when their actions are so very unChristian. Sure
-- perhaps a bit too complex for a short movie to deal with, but take it
away and I think some of the conflict was taken away as well. Besides, I
am never in favor of dumbing-down a complex plot in the mistaken notion
that this makes it somehow more comprehensible for the viewer. Tolstoy's
points about organized religion versus actual faith are VERY relevant to us
today, and ought to have been kept in there in some form.
I think this is symptomatic of a general tendency to deal with certain
things very perfunctorily. I was startled by the decision to turn the
birth of Anna and Vronsky's daughter into a miscarriage; but I suppose Rose
just didn't want to deal with the extra complexity of how Anna (in her
descent into depression and madness) was never able to care for her
daughter as much as she seemed to care for her son, thus elevating her
concern with her son to the level of an obsession. I think that having
this in this film (in any degree) would have probably confused people, if
not presented clearly; and it also (in the book) undermined any clear-cut
interpretation of Anna as the wronged and bereaved mother.
I think Tolstoy meant it that way: it is clearly presented that this
daugher, and Anna's inability to really love her or care about her, is an
indication of the greater problems within her psyche which eventually lead
her to shut herself off from Vronsky and commit suicide. Rose accomplished
this in a less complex and more heavy-handed way with Anna (really round
the twist) pretending a doll is an actual baby. Back again to the problems
of interpretation, because Rose's fallback solution wasn't only inelegant,
but also a bit dishonest: the scene with the doll serves to underscore the
tragedy of Anna being separate from her son by mean people (Karenin and
Ivanova), and it ADDS to Anna's sympathy factor. In the book, Anna's
inability to console herself by giving her daughter the love that she
cannot give her son actually serves to make her seem LESS sympathetic.
Personal peeve: turning Vronsky's attempt at suicide into something less
dramatic, more muddled, and possibly a little bit silly.
I think Tolstoy meant for there to be something tragically noble about
trying to kill yourself because it's the only honorable thing to do when
you are so ashamed that you've almost killed the woman you love through the
results of your loving her -- different time and culture, different
attitudes (we don't view suicide in quite the same way). Yet, there's no
sense of tragic nobility in the scene we actually got in the film; not in
the hasty game of "Russian roulette", nor in the detail of, having survived
the idiocy of pointing a gun at your head, shooting yourself when you throw
the gun down in anger (it all just seems faintly ridiculous). (Did he, in
fact, manage to shoot himself at all? Even that was unclear; though I
thought I detected a limp in later scenes).
I have to wonder if "Russian roulette" isn't actually a later invention,
because it is NOT what Tolstoy uses in the same sequence. Vronsky loads a
gun and points it at his heart, with no question but that it will fire; and
it's only because of his exhaustion that his aim wavers and he sort of ends
up shooting himself through the shoulder; in which case his
self-imprecation of "Stupid!" isn't so much directed at himself because he
ended up shooting himself, but because he made a bad job of it and
Since it was Rose's script, I think Sean played exactly what Rose gave him;
which leaves me wondering how Rose arrived at this interpretation or
thought it served any purpose. In the book, although Vronsky fails to kill
himself, his grievous wounding of himself seems to expitiate his guilt over
the episode, so that by the time he finally drags himself from his sickbed,
it is with renewed conviction and purpose that he resigns his commission
and strides in to carry Anna away. It's hard to depict the passage of time
in a film that's already running at breakneck pace, so I wasn't expecting
THAT much from this sequence, and I kind of expected that Rose would change
the book's version of Vronsky's wound so that it wouldn't slow things down.
But I still expected at least a moment to be given to what Vronsky was
FEELING in the moments leading up to pulling the trigger; instead it was
played much too quickly to give Sean the chance to convey the complexities
of what Vronsky may have been thinking.
What's the point, I wondered, of taking away from Vronsky his grand gesture
of despair? What's the point, actually, of including this scene in the
movie at all? As it was played, it went nowhere. It did not serve to
illuminate Vronsky's character. It did not serve as a plot device (in the
book, it gives him something to do -- recover -- while Anna is also
recovering). And, like the seduction scene, it was over much too quickly
-- audience members who weren't alert missed it, and there was no pause to
consider the gravity of his actions, or why he was doing it, or to even
give Sean the chance to display a bit of useful angst. If you were trying
to save a few minutes on this film, why keep it in at all? We'd have
gladly traded this scene for more footage of the seduction!
Finally, I admit to a lack of a sense of closure -- because, having read
book, I was expecting a bit more to be coming than I got. To be fair to
myself (meaning that it wasn't entirely just me holding the movie to a
higher standard of authentic adaptation than I should have) I was ALSO
expecting there to be a bit more because I'd watched the trailer -- darnit!
-- and had seen scenes in it that were from the important sequence where
Anna goes to the opera despite Vronsky's begging her not to (which is such
an awful public humiliation that it clearly advances her depression and so
on). I was waiting for that sequence. I expected it at the one point
(where he does go, and she stays home); I was truly expecting her not to
stay in bed but to get up and go as well. "Huh," I said to myself, "she
didn't; well, we must be going to get that later...it was in the trailer!"
It was this touching faith in the trailer that undid me.
So when the scene came up where she actually goes to the station and throws
herself in front of the train, I'm thinking "What's this? Foreshadowing?
Dream sequence? She can't be going under the train yet; she hasn't been to
the opera!" I didn't realize until we got the next scene with Vronsky back
in uniform and on the train that, no, that was IT! Whoops! Therefore I
had the uncomfortable feeling that the movie had ended, and I'd missed it
-- left waiting for even a perfunctory treatment of sequences from the book
that I was expecting to be hit, even in highlight form (such as the fact
that they DO move to the country, and they actually manage to have a
successful life there for a little while, as Vronsky gets into politics and
Anna manages to fulfill herself briefly through such things as encouraging
him to build a modern hospital for the beneft of the peasants).
I saw this movie after a month and a half of reading a lot of other
people's reviews. I watched it with those in mind. And the most general
statement I can make about the movie and people's reactions to it is that
perhaps the reason so many critics seem disappointed with this or that
aspect of "Anna Karenina" is that Anna herself was, I feel, peripheral to
the story as Rose ended up presenting it. I think this wasn't entirely a
conscious decision on his part, but, I felt as if this was most strongly a
movie, not about Anna and her thoughts and feelings and journey, but about
three men -- Vronsky, Levin and Karenin -- and their attempts to find
fulfillment and happiness in their lives, and what their different pursuits
of it bring them.
Viewed from this perspective, actually -- "it's a film about the boys"--
it's fairly successful. One gets, I think, more of a sense of Vronsky's
personal journey than Anna's; certainly far more of Levin's than of Kitty's
(which is entirely absent), and even some of Karenin's (which in its way is
as tragic as Vronsky's). This is not, I think, an entirely inappropriate
reading of Tolstoy's book; after all, the book, taken as a whole, has as
much or more to say about Levin's thoughts as it does about Anna's; and it
gives a great deal of weight to Karenin's and Vronsky's thoughts as well.
But, I don't think it was the interpretation that critics and some of the
audience were looking for. They were looking for a film of "Anna Karenina"
to be centrally about Anna. It's difficult to tell whether the portrayal
of Anna that emerged was the result of Rose's interpretation, or merely of
the editing of the existing footage. It is partly because of things like
the lack of focus on Anna's life with Karenin (before Vronsky or at the
time of Vronsky), and the over-simplification of things directly related to
the portrayal of her feelings (like the birth of her daughter), and the
cutting out entirely of other sequences that primarily served to illuminate
the story (such as the opera-going sequence, or their time in the country
just before her suicide) that combined to make me feel that this became a
film that was not primarily ABOUT Anna -- so much of her most illuminating
sequences were dumbed-down, cut short, or eliminated altogether.
The idea that the film was really about the three men, and where there
passions take them (to loneliness, to ruination, or to fulfillment) could
have gotten Rose points for a daring interpretation of Tolstoy's work -- if
he had in fact meant it to come out that way. Unfortunately, I don't think
he achieved this result as the culmination of a conscious approach. I
think he made interpretive decisions about various characters (like
Karenin, for example) without realizing how it would affect things, and
that, combined with the way the final edit was put together gave him a very
different film than he perhaps intended. Which is a shame, because if he
had made this interpretation his goal from the start and structured his
film to achieve it, the result would have been a lot clearer, and the film
much better. It's not an invalid interpretation, in fact it's quite an
interesting one. But Rose, even if he'd meant it that way, was never going
to get a lot of credit for an "interesting" interpretation of Tolstoy,
because filmgoers aren't really primed to appreciate that kind of thing.
Given all this, why did this film get billed as "Leo Tolstoy's Anna
Karenina", when it's really nothing but Rose's retelling of it, repackaging
of it, and reinterpretation of it? The fashion for tacking the original
author's name onto films is one that I wish would die the heck away. It's
silly. People who use it seem to be trying to convey that THEIR version is
more pure, truer to the original work than any previous version has been.
While it's true that this "Anna Karenina" tries to be a more complete
version than any other has been, it's still not pure Tolstoy.
But is it anyone's fault that it didn't succeed? Literary tastes have
changed over the years; you wouldn't find a novel like this becoming a
bestseller today. Unfortunately, Bernard Rose doesn't get off the hook
with the excuse that modern audiences just aren't ready for a 19th century
writer's version of romance; not with the recent Jane Austen craze
producing movies like "Sense & Sensibility" -- go try reading the original
novel of that; it is just as dense, just as psychological, and no more
physically intimate than Tolsoy's much later novel. But that didn't keep
the screen version from being very good and from connecting with modern
This was a movie that gave myself and the person I saw it with plenty of
fodder for discussion on the way home (obviously, because you've just read
the distillation of that), and in my opinion, any movie that can do that
can't be all bad. It's a pity that it wasn't the unqualified success that
all of us were hoping for, although, frankly, I don't think it was the
unmitigated disaster that some people seem to think it to be (to judge by
the overall lack of PR for the film, including the studio and many people
involved with it).
In short, what I would really, really like is for them to release onto
video not this film, but the Director's Cut. I think it would be a very
different experience. And, after the critical and commercial reception of
this film, they've certainly got nothing to LOSE by releasing a longer
version onto video.