Monday, August 31, 2020

Sharpe's World: Love, Courage, and Respect

Sean Bean as Richard Sharpe.
In 1993, ITV launched a series of television movies based on Bernard Cornwell's novels about a British officer during the Napoleonic Wars. Sean Bean starred as Richard Sharpe, a sergeant who is promoted to lieutenant after he saves the life of the Duke of Wellington. During the series, which consisted of sixteen films, Sharpe rises to the rank of lieutenant colonel.

In Sharpe's Rifles (1993), though, he struggles with being accepted as an officer. He is put in charge of a small unit of riflemen and clashes immediately with Corporal Patrick Harper (Daragh O'Malley). Harper considers himself the equal of Sharpe and butts heads often with the newly-minted lieutenant. It culminates in Sharpe charging Harper with mutiny--a charge he later drops when Harper saves their mission.

Sharpe also grapples frequently with his fellow officers. Unlike most officers, who bought their commissions, he does not hail from a well-to-do family and lacks a formal education. However, Sharpe possesses more battlefield experience than most of his superiors--and seldom refrains from expressing his opinions.

As the series progresses, Sharpe becomes accepted by his subordinates, who admire his courage and intelligence. However, he forms few friendships with fellow officers, preferring to fraternize with his soldiers. Put another way, he favors a hearty mug of ale over a glass of fine wine.

Daragh O'Malley as Harper.
The ruggedly handsome Sharpe has several romantic relationships throughout the series and eventually marries (one of the most interesting storylines). However, his strongest relationships are with two men: Patrick Harper and the Duke of Wellington. Indeed, Sean Bean and Daragh O'Malley (as Harper) are the only two actors to appear in every film. Their characters' mutual respect is the one constant during the chaos of war. Wellington (played initially by  David Troughton and then Hugh Fraser) also admires and trusts Sharpe. Still, he occasionally takes advantage of the younger officer--though he bales out Sharpe on several occasions.

Sean Bean perfectly captures the blue-collar ethic of the titular hero. An ongoing joke during the series is that the enemy and rival officers expect Sharpe to fight like a gentleman--while Sharpe fights to win. The beauty of Bean's performance, though, is that he also conveys Sharpe's innate kindness toward women and his insecurity in regard to his education.

Abigail Cruttenden as Jane.
The supporting cast includes several actors who appear in multiple episodes. The standouts include Pete Postlethwaite as a psychotic sergeant and Abigail Cruttenden as Sharpe's wife. If the chemistry between Bean and Cruttenden seems real, then that's because it was--they were married for two years.

The majority of the Sharpe films are above-average, though the plots start to get a little repetitious toward the end. There are also lots of battle scenes. Still, the strong characters carry the day with the only truly bad episode (Sharpe's Justice) being one that's not based on a Cornwell novel. All of the films except the last two revolve around the Napoleonic Wars and were produced during 1993-97. Sharpe's Challenge (2006) and Sharpe's Peril (2008) shift the action to India.

John Tams, who plays Rifleman Daniel Hagman, also sings occasionally on the show. Most episodes end with the traditional folk song "Over the Hill and Far Away" with additional lyrics written by Tams. In fact, the music was popular enough to result in an album, Over the Hills and Far Away: The Music of Sharpe, featuring Tams and others.


  1. I never have seen those last two. Perhaps I should keep it that way, but now you have me longing to carve out time to watch Sharpe of yore.

  2. Very nice write up on this good show! I own quite a few of the episodes on DVD and have been getting in the mood to rewatch. I think this post is just the push I need to start watching again. I also haven't seen then two most recent, but would like to at some point.

  3. One of my all-time favorite TV shows though I also haven't seen the two very last episodes. I used to be quite obsessed with the show.

    Sharpe's wife Jane turned out to be a strange character. I'm not sure if the character development was well written. I thought her change from loyal wife to adulteress was a bit abrupt.

    1. I agree that Mrs. Sharpe's transition from loving, helpful wife to adulteress was too abrupt.

  4. I always like Sean Bean – he gives you your money's worth.

    My husband and I have a running joke about Sean B. We always pronounce his name "Seen Bean". But two minutes into any of his performances, and we forget we're watching an actor.

  5. This sounds like a good series; almost like Captain Hornblower on land. I was familiar with the title but never took a peek at it. But more intriguing is that album!