If anyone was born to play up through the ranks, rough and ready, Lieutenant Richard Sharpe, then surely that anyone was Sean Bean. The dashing character, created by period action adventure maestro Bernard Cornwell, fights his way through the Napoleonic Wars (between the years 1810-15) starting in the first episode Sharpe’s Rifles as a sergent before quickly rising to Lieutenant and put in charge of a company of men that he quickly has to gain the respect of.
Over the course of 16 feature length, big budget dramas (which are choc full of action and derring do) Sharpe has to contend with not only the French and Spanish but also more than his fair share of corruption in the ranks of the British army itself. The class system also comes well into play as most of the officer class Sharpe has to associate with are well educated upper class types who have bought commissions and can’t stand the way Sharpe likes to get in amongst the thick of the action. Sharpe also manages to regular save damsels in distress who of course tend to succumb to his charms.
Made for ITV and airing throughout most of the 1990’s, Sharpe was one of the Networks biggest successes and made an international name of Bean. It’s all supremely entertaining and the supporting casts feature some very well known names including the likes of Elizabeth Hurley, Daniel Craig, Caroline Langrishe, Brian Cox, Neil Dudgeon and Abigail Cruttenden (who would later go on to marry Bean in real life, although they later divorced).
Despite Sean Bean being tailor made for the role he was in fact second choice with Paul McGann being given the role only to injure his knee in a football injury two weeks into filming.
The series finished in 1997 but after a 9 year gap Sean Bean revived the character for a one off 2 parter called Sharpe’s Challenge.
UK / ITV – Central – Celtic – Picture Partnership / 16×120 minute episodes / 1993-97 and 2006
Creator: Bernard Cornwell / Producer: Malcolm Craddock, Simon Lewis, Chris Burt / Titles: Baxter Hobbins Sides / Technical Advisor: Richard Moore / Music: Dominic Muldowney, John Tams / Executive Producers: Ted Childs, Muir Sutherland
SEAN BEAN as Richard Sharpe
DARAGH O’MALLEY as Harper
MICHAEL MEARS as Cooper
JOHN TAMS as Hagman
JASON SALKEY as Harris