Sunday 22 February 2009

Over the Hills and Faraway with Richard Sharpe

First shown in the UK in 1993, Sharpe's Rifles was the first of a series of critically acclaimed TV adaptations of Bernard Cornwell's popular novels set in the 19th Century Napoleonic Peninsular wars. Sean Bean starred as the heroic Richard Sharpe, a common soldier who rises through the ranks of the British army after initially saving the Duke of Wellington's life.

Dressed in the uniform of the Green Jackets, the swashbuckling Sharpe served in the fictional South Essex regiment garrisoned in Chelmsford. Each story would see Sharpe carrying out daring exploits against the colourful backdrop of Wellington's campaign against Napoleon Bonaparte. In one of the TV series' deviations from Cornwall's novels, many of Sharpe's adventures were in the company of his crack team of Riflemen known as the Chosen Men.

Despite the literary Sharpe being a dark, scarred and ugly southerner, Sean Bean with his Sheffield accent, blonde tresses and general hunkiness became the definitive Sharpe. Apparently even Bernard Cornwall adapted his later books with Sean Bean in mind.

The music for Sharpe was composed by Dominic Muldowney and featured performances by British folk musicians Kate Rusby and John Tams who arranged much of the music in the series. Tams also was a regular in the series as Chosen Man Daniel Hagman, the sharpshooting former poacher whose cure for all ills was paraffin oil and best brown paper.

Sharpe was essential TV viewing during its heyday in the 1990's. It was filmed on location on a tight budget but excelled with its memorable characters, stirring stories with a bit of romance and action aplenty. The series spawned videos, DVD's, games and talking books and certainly inspired many to consult history books to read up on the background of the world Sharpe existed in.
Despite the limitations of the budget resulting in the Napoleonic campaign being apparently fought by opposing forces no bigger than a couple of football teams, Sharpe managed to convey a historical accuracy yet remained exciting and entertaining.

Through Sharpe, Sean Bean became a pin-up for the ladies and bona-fide Boy's Own type hero in the mould of Sean Connery or Harrison Ford. Alas when Hollywood beckoned, poor old Sean got typecast in baddie roles in such movies as Goldeneye, Ronin and National Treasure. He had a brief moment of glory as Boromir in Lord of the Rings but that was it.

Unfortunately the producers of Sharpe did an Indiana Jones with Richard Sharpe and dusted off his uniform and let out the trousers for a disappointing prequel and a woeful sequel both set in India. The best way to remember Sean Bean as Richard Sharpe is the sight of him and his Chosen Men marching over the brow of a hill to the tune of Over the Hills and Faraway to face another exciting adventure.

1 comment:

JR Todd said...

Thank you for this post. The Sharpe series is one of my favorites. I've just finished watching the series in order and have also finished the first book by Bernard Cornwall, and I have to say, though being very different from the video, the first book is a lot more entertaining from a certain point of view as well.