Sunday, 21 June 2009

Bernard Cornwell: Sharpe TV Series

Sharpe is a British series of television dramas about Richard Sharpe, a fictional British soldier in the Napoleonic Wars. Sharpe is the hero of a number of novels by Bernard Cornwell; most, though not all, of the episodes are based on the books. Produced by Central Independent Television for the ITV network, the series was shot mainly in Turkey and the Crimea, although some filming was also done in England, Spain and Portugal.
In 2004, as part of ITV's new set of drama, ITV announced that it intended to produce new episodes of Sharpe, in co-production with BBC America, loosely based on his time in India, with Sean Bean continuing his role as Sharpe. Sharpe's Challenge is a two-part adventure; part one premiered on ITV on 23 April 2006, with part two being shown the following night. More gory than earlier episodes, the show was broadcast by BBC America in September 2006.
At a book signing in Bath on 11 October 2006, Bernard Cornwell revealed that there were plans by ITV to film two more episodes. Filming was supposed to start in April, but was postponed due to the resignation of ITV's chief executive, at which point production was pushed back to September. However, Sean Bean was unavailable due to other commitments, so production has been postponed once more. When asked about the stories, Cornwell said that he believed that they were producing two new stories specially for television. It was announced that filming Sharpe's Peril, produced by Celtic Film/Picture Palace, began on 3 March 2008 in India. The first part was broadcast on ITV1 on 2 November 2008 with the second part shown a week later.

Plot summary

At the beginning of the series, Richard Sharpe (Sean Bean) is a sergeant in the 95th Rifles serving in Portugal in 1809. When he singlehandedly saves the life of General Sir Arthur Wellesley (David Troughton in the first two films, then Hugh Fraser) from a group of French cavalrymen, Wellesley gives Sharpe a battlefield commission, promoting him to lieutenant. Sharpe is placed in charge of a detachment of the 95th Rifles - a group of elite riflemen ("chosen men"), among them Sergeant Patrick Harper (Daragh O'Malley), who eventually becomes his best friend.
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, leaving Sharpe free once more. (However, according to the Starbuck Chronicles, another series of Cornwell books, she survives Sharpe.)

Initially, Paul McGann was cast in the title role; however, two days into filming of the first episode, McGann injured his knee playing football and was forced to withdraw. By the time production was ready to start again, Sean Bean became available and took on the role.
Author Bernard Cornwell was so impressed by Sean Bean's performances that he dedicated one of the novels, Sharpe's Battle, "to Sean Bean".
Several actors have played different characters 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 born in Wapping in London and has dark hair. Sean Bean is blond and, being from Sheffield, he speaks with a pronounced Sheffield 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".

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 vengeance for a murder that he had committed.
The television series uses the term "Chosen Men" for all of Sharpe's Riflemen, though in the novels it is correctly used to mean corporal and appears far less.

The series also focuses on a core group of Riflemen, some of which were invented for the series. The series creations Harris and Perkins are introduced in later novels, notably Sharpe's Battle. Confusingly, 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 Rifleman) 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.
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. It should also be noted that 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, which is why the rivalry between Sharpe and Bickerstaff is a little forced.
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.

List of episodes
The episodes are listed by first airing date.
Episode Year
1 Sharpe's Rifles 1993
2 Sharpe's Eagle 1993
3 Sharpe's Company 1994
4 Sharpe's Enemy 1994
5 Sharpe's Honour 1994
6 Sharpe's Gold 1995
7 Sharpe's Battle 1995
8 Sharpe's Sword 1995
9 Sharpe's Regiment 1996
10 Sharpe's Siege 1996
11 Sharpe's Mission 1996
12 Sharpe's Revenge 1997
13 Sharpe's Justice 1997
14 Sharpe's Waterloo 1997
15 Sharpe's Challenge 2006
16 Sharpe's Peril 2008

Cast and crew
Chosen men:
Actor Character Years
Sean Bean Lieutenant–Colonel Richard Sharpe 1993–1997, 2006, 2008
Daragh O'Malley Regimental Sergeant Major Patrick Harper 1993–1997, 2006, 2008
Michael Mears Rifleman Francis Cooper 1993–1995
John Tams Sergeant Daniel Hagman 1993–1997
Jason Salkey Sergeant Harris 1993–1997
Paul Trussell Rifleman Isiah Tongue 1993
Lyndon Davies Rifleman Ben Perkins 1993–1995

Supporting characters
Actor Character Years
David Troughton Sir Arthur Wellesley, later Lord Wellington 1993
Hugh Fraser Sir Arthur Wellesley, later Lord Wellington 1994–1997, 2006
Malcolm Jamieson Colonel de L'Eclin 1993
Brian Cox Major Michael Hogan 1993
Kerry Shale James Rothschild 1993
Simón Andreu Major Blas Vivar 1993
Tim Bentinck Captain Murray 1993
Daniel Craig Lieutenant Berry 1993
David Ashton Major Lennox 1993
Neil Dudgeon Lieutenant Gibbons 1993
James Purefoy Captain Jack Spears 1995
Gavan O'Herlihy Captain Thomas Leroy, later Lieutenant Colonel Leroy 1993
Martin Jacobs Colonel William Lawford 1993
Benedict Taylor Colonel William Lawford 1996
Assumpta Serna Comandante Teresa Moreno 1993–1994
Mark Strong Colonel Brand 1996
Michael Cochrane Colonel/General Sir Henry Simmerson 1993, 1995, 1996, 2006, 2008 Christopher Villiers Colonel Horace Bampfylde 1996
Philip Whitchurch Captain William Frederickson 1994, 1996, 1997
Michael Byrne Major Nairn 1994
Pete Postlethwaite Sergeant Obadiah Hakeswill 1994
Féodor Atkine Major Pierre Ducos 1994, 1996, 1997
Elizabeth Hurley Lady Isabella Farthingdale 1994
Diana Perez Ramona (Gonzalez) Harper 1994–1996, 2006
Alice Krige La Marquesa de Casares el Grande y Melida Sadaba 1994
Emily Mortimer Lass 1995
Hugh Ross Major Mungo Munro 1995
Julian Fellowes Major Dunnet; HRH the Prince Regent 1993, 1996
Olivier Pierre General Jean-Baptiste Calvet 1996
John Benfield General Jean-Baptiste Calvet 1997
James Laurenson Major General Hector Ross 1996–1997
Caroline Langrishe Lady Anne Camoynes 1996, 1997
Abigail Cruttenden Jane Gibbons 1996–1997
Alexander Armstrong Lord John Rossendale 1996
Alexis Denisof Lord John Rossendale 1997
Cécile Paoli Lucille Castineau, Madame la Vicomtessa de Seleglise 1997
Paul Bettany Prince William of Orange 1997

Production team
Directed by: Tom Clegg
Produced by: Malcolm Craddock, Muir Sutherland
Writing credits: Novels: Bernard Cornwell
Screenplays: Eoghan Harris (8/15) Charles Wood (3/15) Russell Lewis (2/15) Nigel Kneale (1/15) Colin MacDonald (1/15) Patrick Harbinson (1/15)

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