It infrequently happens on "Masterpiece Theatre" that the introductions are more absorbing than the drama. That is the case with the four-part Napoleonic Wars saga "Sharpe" (beginning Sunday at 9 p.m. on KCET-TV Channel 28 and KPBS-TV Channel 15, 8 p.m. on KVCR-TV Channel 24 and Tuesday at 8 p.m. on KOCE-TV Channel 50).
Featuring Irish actor Sean Bean as a dashing, swashbuckling British soldier who saves the wife of the future Duke of Wellington and is rewarded with an officer's command, the movie should jog memories of viewers who have vague intimations of the Peninsular War in the early 1800s, when the French and English were tearing each other apart in Portugal and Spain.
This is pure romance fiction, with a sexy Spanish guerrilla fighter (Assumpta Serna) who, at the end of the second installment, tumbles into the hay with the entitled marksman Sharpe, whom the virile Bean cloaks with a snarly panache.
But the production, adapted by Eoghan Harris from a series of novels by Bernard Cornwell, is not up to the production standards we have come to expect from "Masterpiece Theatre." Direction by Tom Clegg is rudimentary, and the episodes are devoid of any stylistic flair, giving the show the appearance of a movie shot in the boulder-and-desert country outside of Simi Valley.
Indeed, aside from the lavish costumes and foppish blowhards, "Sharpe" suggests a "Masterpiece Theatre" under budgetary restraints. Before the final installment, host Russell Baker sets up the action framework by referring to Goya's famous painting of the French massacring the English, with bodies draped in treetops. But here the bodies merely drop like tin soldiers.