He was a great soldier but can he make it as an officer and a gentleman?
MAJOR BLAS VIVAR: A toast. Death to the French!
(after seeing that Sharpe is not drinking)
MAJOR BLAS VIVAR: Why do you not drink?
RICHARD SHARPE: I never liked that toast, Major. I’m a soldier not an assassin.
Sharpe’s Rifles is a television movie based on a 1988 novel by Bernard Cornwell. The 1993 adaptation stars Sean Bean, Daragh O’Malley, Assumpta Serna, and Brian Cox. It is the first of a long series of highly successful and critically acclaimed television adaptations of Cornwell’s novels about Richard Sharpe.
Sharpe’s Rifles tells the story of Richard Sharpe – a hard and tough soldier from the wrong side of the tracks who receives a battlefield commission and becomes an officer and a gentleman. The story then follows the exploits of now Lieutenant Sharpe and his merry band of “Chosen Men” as they survive an ambush by French cavalry.
Brian Cox as Major Michael Hogan
Simón Andreu as Major Blas Vivar
Anthony Hyde as Count of Matamoros
Malcolm Jamieson as Colonel de L’Eclin
Michael Mears as Rifleman Francis Cooper
Paul Trussell as Rifleman Isaiah Tongue
Julian Fellowes as Major Dunnett
It is 1809 and Sir Arthur Wellesley is commanding the British Army against the French in Portugal. While out riding he is attacked by French cavalry and saved by Sergeant Sharpe. Wellesley rewards the sergeant with a field commission to lieutenant.
The British Army is broke so Wellesley arranges with the Rothschilds for a loan. James Rothschild has left Vienna with a bank draft but has gone missing. Major Dunnett and a company of men are sent out to find him. Sharpe is given command of The Chosen Men – a squad of sharpshooters attached to the company.
Sharpe is uncomfortable as an officer and makes a less than favorable impression on his new men – especially with Patrick Harper.
While The Chosen Men scout the terrain the company is attacked and wiped out by the enemy. Only Private Perkins and a badly wounded captain survive.
Our heroes take refuge in an abandoned cottage where the captain gives Sharpe his sword before dying. Harper tells Sharpe that the men have decided to go back to the army and threatens Sharpe if he doesn’t let them go. Sharpe and Harper get into a brutal fistfight. They are then taken by surprise by Spanish guerrillas led by Commandante Teresa Moreno and Major Blas Vivar. Sharpe declares Harper a mutineer and has him bound. He then joins forces with the guerrillas for their mutual benefit since they are all heading in the same direction.
Sharpe bonds with his men and with Teresa as well. The guerillas are protecting a chest and despite being a prisoner Harper kills two French soldiers protecting it. Because of this Sharpe drops the charges against him and frees him. They then encounter a missionary family named Parker – a couple and their niece – who they take under their protection.
Vivar says the chest contains important governments papers. But Sharpe opens it and finds a flag called the “Banner of Blood.” Legend says that Saint James will appear to defend Spain when the flag is raised over the chapel in the town of Torrecastro. Wellesley’s chief of intelligence Major Hogan shows up and orders Sharpe to assist Vivar in his mission. Sharpe promotes Harper to sergeant.
The Chosen Men and the guerrillas attack and defeat the French garrison at Torrecastro. Vivar raises the flag. The French leader Colonel de L’Eclin is about to shoot Sharpe when Perkins saves him. Sharpe rewards him by making him a Chosen Man while the cynical Harper tells him he should decline the favor.
Does raising the flag work? Does Sharpe find the Rothschild? And what about his feelings for Teresa? Watch the movie – you can find it on YouTube.
- Filming took place in the Crimea, Portugal, and England.
- Actor Paul McGann was originally cast as Sharpe. But he broke his leg playing football and was replaced by Sean Bean.
- The jacket that Sean Bean wears on the poster picture was actually tailored for the smaller Paul McGann. That is why the jacket hangs open in the front.
- The author of the Sharpe novels, Bernard Cornwell, was so happy with the way Sean Bean played the part that he changed the description of Sharpe in his later books to more closely resemble the actor.
- Although based on fact, “The Chosen Men” were not a unit but the equivalent of Lance Corporals. The producers brought them together so that Sharpe’s character would have a regular team around him with a sense of camaraderie and familiarity for the audience.
This is a minor point I will admit but it still bothered me. Sharpe becomes a lieutenant by saving the life of Sir Arthur Wellesley. Knowing a bit about British history I am aware that Wellesley becomes the famous Duke of Wellington who defeats Napoleon at Waterloo. Knowing this made Sharpe saving his life more significant for me. But nowhere in this film does it actually say that Wellesley is Wellington for those who do not know. That means much of the significance of Sharpe saving his life is lost. Now I’m not saying that someone should have looked at the camera and said, “By the way Sir Arthur Wellesley becomes the Duke of Wellington and he is the guy who later beats Napoleon.” What I am saying is that there could have been a creative way (a written paragraph before the credits, a voice-over by a narrator, etc.) to impart this information to those who do not know.
I love historical romance adventure stories. I have read The Three Musketeers about eight times. This film fits right into that category. It takes place during the Peninsula War – history! Sharpe falls in love with Teresa – romance! The Chosen Men kick ass – adventure! What more can you possibly want?
There is something about the way that Sean Bean plays Sharpe, with just a hint of vulnerability. You know he is tougher than anyone. You know that he is smarter than anyone realizes. You know he is going to win in the end – at least you think he is going to win but you’re only 99 percent convinced. That one percent of uncertainty, that one percent of suspense, that one percent that manages to keep you on the edge of your seat, all comes from Sean Bean. He was born to play Sharpe.
The cast is amazing! This is an all-star cast with Sean Bean, Brian Cox, and David Troughton leading the list. Now this can be a good thing and it can be a bad thing. The good thing is that with a cast of this caliber you can expect dynamite performances and in that respect this film does not disappoint. The bad thing is that sometimes with an all-star cast you don’t see the character you see the star playing at being the character. I am happy to say that is not the case here. I did not see Brian Cox the actor who plays bad guys. I saw Major Hogan the military intelligence officer. That is true of all of them.
All I know is this – despite the dirt, despite the discipline, despite the blood and the gore and the violence, at the end of this movie I wanted to be one of the “Chosen Men.”
I highly recommend this movie. Richard Sharpe is a hero who deserves to be up there with James Bond, Tarzan, and Sherlock Holmes. I urge you to watch this film and guarantee you will not be disappointed. And I have good news for you. If you get hooked on Sharpe – and I expect you will – there are fourteen more movies about him waiting for you to discover. Drop me a line and let me know what you think.
I gleefully give this movie four and a half Gray Geeks on our rating scale.
As the expression goes, “All good things must come to an end.” Unfortunately that is true for us now. I really love the time we have spent together. I love when we do this and talk movies. And I am grateful that you took time out to be with me. I love you for it. Until next time, may the great bird of happiness crap on your shoulder. Hasta la vista!