Series DVD artwork
by Bernard Cornwell
|Written by||Eoghan Harris|
|Directed by||Tom Clegg|
|Theme music composer||Dominic Muldowney|
|Country of origin||United Kingdom|
|No. of episodes||16|
|Running time||100-140 minutes|
|Original release||5 May 1993 -|
9 November 2008
Sharpe is a British television series of stories starring Sean Bean as Richard Sharpe, a fictional British soldier in the Napoleonic Wars, with Irish actor Daragh O'Malley playing his second in command Patrick Harper. Sharpe and Harper are the heroes of a number of novels by Bernard Cornwell; most, though not all, of the episodes are based on the books. Produced by Celtic Films and Picture Palace Films for the ITV network, the series was shot mainly in Crimea, a few episodes in Turkey, although some filming was also done in England, Portugal and Spain. Two episodes were filmed in India.
The series originally ran from 1993 to 1997. In 2006, ITV premiered Sharpe's Challenge, a two-part adventure loosely based on his time in India, with Sean Bean continuing his role as Sharpe; part one premiered on 23 April, with part two being shown the following night. With more gore than earlier episodes, the show was broadcast by BBC America in September 2006. Filming of Sharpe's Peril, produced by Celtic Film/Picture Palace, began on 3 March 2008 in India. The first part was broadcast on ITV and UTV on 2 November 2008, with the second part shown a week later, although STV, the holders of the Northern and Central Scottish licensees of ITV, decided not to screen Sharpe's Peril.Sharpe's Challenge and Sharpe's Peril were broadcast in the US in 2010 as part of PBS' Masterpiece Classic season.
At the beginning of the series, Richard Sharpe (Sean Bean) is a sergeant in the 95th Rifles serving in Portugal during the Peninsular War in 1809. When he singlehandedly saves the life of General Sir Arthur Wellesley (David Troughton in the first two films, Hugh Fraser thereafter) from a group of French cavalrymen, Wellesley gives Sharpe a battlefield commission, appointing him a lieutenant. Sharpe is placed in charge of a detachment of the 95th Rifles: The term used for his men, 'chosen men', reflected acknowledgment of the men's rifle marksmanship performance rather than rank; it granted some privileges, such as avoiding certain routine duties. Patrick Harper (Daragh O'Malley) eventually becomes his best friend and is promoted to sergeant and later sergeant major.
Wellesley and his various spymasters, first Major Michael Hogan (Brian Cox), followed by Major Nairn (Michael Byrne), Major Mungo Monroe (Hugh Ross) and Major General Ross (James Laurenson), find Sharpe to be an extremely capable and cunning officer and give him progressively more important tasks. Despite their backing, he has to fight against the strong prejudice of aristocrats (who often owe their army positions to money and social connections rather than military skill) against an uncouth commoner raised from the ranks. He makes a number of dangerous enemies, such as French Major Pierre Ducos (Féodor Atkine) and Colonel Sir Henry Simmerson (Michael Cochrane), and encounters one from his prior service in India, Sergeant Obadiah Hakeswill (Pete Postlethwaite). However, Sharpe's successes gain him steady promotion. By the end of the Napoleonic Wars, at the Battle of Waterloo, he is Lieutenant-Colonel Sharpe.
Along the way, Sharpe has a number of romances. During the course of the series, he marries the Spanish guerrilla leader Teresa Moreno (Assumpta Serna), with whom he has a daughter. Teresa is killed by Hakeswill. Sharpe then marries Jane Gibbons (Abigail Cruttenden, Bean's real-life wife for less than three years), who deserts him, steals his hard-earned money, and takes a lover. He finally settles down with Lucille Castineau (Cécile Paoli), a Frenchwoman who passes away some time after Napoleon's final defeat. (However, according to the Starbuck Chronicles, another series of Cornwell books, she outlives Sharpe.)
Initially, Paul McGann was cast in the title role; however, two weeks into filming of the first episode in Ukraine, McGann injured his knee playing football and was forced to withdraw. When production started again a month later, Sean Bean took over the role. The first actor cast was actually Daragh O'Malley in the role of Sgt. Patrick Harper.
Author Bernard Cornwell was so impressed by Sean Bean's performances that he dedicated one of the novels, Sharpe's Battle, "to Sean Bean".
Some actors have played multiple roles in the series. Peter-Hugo Daly portrayed first Sergeant Rodd in Sharpe's Gold and then Bickerstaff, another unruly sergeant who dislikes Sharpe. Julian Fellowes played Major Warren Dunnett in Sharpe's Rifles and also the Prince Regent in Sharpe's Regiment. Tony Haygarth was "Marshal" Pot-au-Feu in Sharpe's Enemy and Sir Willoughby Parfitt in Sharpe's Justice.
There are some differences between the series and the novels. For instance, in the books, Sharpe was said to be unusually tall (over 6 ft), was born in Wapping in London and has dark hair with a very noticeable scar on his face. Sean Bean is shorter, blond and, being from Sheffield, he speaks with a pronounced Yorkshire accent. Sharpe is revealed to have been born in Keighley to local woman Lizzie Sharpe in Sharpe's Justice; this contradicts the books which often state his mother was a London "Cat Street whore" who died in the Gordon Riots. In novels written after the television series started airing, the issue of Sharpe's northern accent and roots is addressed by having him flee from London to Yorkshire when he is a teenager to avoid retribution for a murder of an employer over a woman.
While in the novels Sharpe commands a group of thirty riflemen, the series focuses on a much smaller group of "Chosen Men", some of whom were invented for the series. The series' creations Harris and Perkins are introduced in later novels, notably Sharpe's Battle which takes place between earlier novels. These novels also feature Cooper, despite the fact that the character had been killed off in the novel Sharpe's Rifles. Harris (the educated rifleman) and Perkins (the youngest) share characteristics with Cornwell's originals Tongue and Pendleton, and appear together with them in later novels.
In the first TV episode, Sharpe is a sergeant in the 95th Rifles in Portugal when he saves Wellesley's life. In the books, this occurs in India during the Battle of Assaye, while he is serving in the 33rd Foot. The television series also differs in the fact that Sharpe was already a commissioned officer by the time he was posted to Portugal in the novels.
Owing to actor Brian Cox's illness, his character, Major Michael Hogan, was replaced with borrowed character namesakes from numerous novels to create three more exploring officers: Major Nairn, Major Monroe, and Major General Ross; this also removed the future death of Major Hogan by disease in Sharpe's Siege. In the TV adaptation, Major General Ross catches malarial fever, but recovers.
Teresa is introduced in the first film, but does not make an appearance in the books until Sharpe's Gold.
In one of the most recent episodes, Sharpe's Challenge, Sharpe states that his latest lover, Lucille, has died, something never mentioned in the books. The characters of Sergeant Bickerstaff and General William Dodd are killed off in this programme. Sharpe's Challenge is a composite of the three prequels that are set in India, creating a number of inconsistencies, since the TV version is set after the events at Waterloo. Bickerstaff's counterpart in the books is Hakeswill, who is killed off in Sharpe's Enemy and Sharpe's Fortress.
Harry Price is shot and apparently killed in Sharpe's Company, when in the book the character killed is Captain Knowles; however Price, played by a different actor, is alive and well in Sharpe's Waterloo.
The episodes are listed by first airing date.
|No.||Date Aired||Episode Name||Setting||Date Set|
|2||1993||Sharpe's Eagle||Battle of Talavera||1809|
|3||1994||Sharpe's Company||Siege of Badajoz||1812|
|5||1994||Sharpe's Honour||Battle of Vitoria||1813|
|7||1995||Sharpe's Battle||Franco-Spanish border||1813|
|8||1995||Sharpe's Sword||Franco-Spanish border||1813|
|11||1996||Sharpe's Mission||Napoleonic France||1810 and 1813|
|13||1997||Sharpe's Justice||Yorkshire, Peace of 1814||1814|
|14||1997||Sharpe's Waterloo||Battle of Waterloo||1815|
|15||2006||Sharpe's Challenge||India||1803 and 1817|