A couple weeks ago I was poking around YouTube when a video popped up on my feed picturing Sean Bean in a sword fighting duel. Me being me, I clicked on it immediately, since I’m a fan of the actor and of swordfights; it’s a complete win-win.
But what surprised me was that I had never seen or even heard of the show the clip was from, a TV series called “Sharpe”, based off the novels of the same name. The duel was fantastic; Richard Sharpe, the titular character, is a soldier roped into a high society party during the Napoleonic Wars era, and coerced into a duel against a lord.
What really struck me about the scene, without knowing anything about the series, was that it was really apparent that Sharpe was a soldier; he fights only when he needs to, and if he fights, he fights to kill. The opponent in question was a much better duelist having practiced for years, and won against Sharpe in their skirmish, but I was very impressed by the vast difference between the two men. Sharpe was rough, but had true honor born from humility and hard work, while his opponent was riding on ego. One of the men in the room, immediately after the duel, bears down on the Lord, saying, “Where were YOU at Talavera, SIR?!” I didn’t know anything about Talavera, but I got the context: sure, this guy won a duel against a professional soldier at a party; but Sharpe had fought in war, risking his life, and had the reputation of a war hero because he had faced real death and horror and came out the other side.
I was instantly hooked! I had to know more and was SHOCKED to find out that the clip I saw was from the 13th of the original 14 TV movies based on the novels, and that there were 16 movies overall!
|No.||Date Aired||Episode Name||Setting||Date Set|
|1||5 May 1993||Sharpe’s Rifles||Portugal||1809|
|2||12 May 1993||Sharpe’s Eagle||Battle of Talavera||1809|
|3||25 May 1994||Sharpe’s Company||Siege of Badajoz||1812|
|4||1 June 1994||Sharpe’s Enemy||Portugal||1813|
|5||8 June 1994||Sharpe’s Honour||Battle of Vitoria||1813|
|6||12 April 1995||Sharpe’s Gold||Spain||1813|
|7||19 April 1995||Sharpe’s Battle||Franco–Spanish border||1813|
|8||26 April 1995||Sharpe’s Sword||Franco–Spanish border||1813|
|9||1 May 1996||Sharpe’s Regiment||England||1813|
|10||8 May 1996||Sharpe’s Siege||Bordeaux||1813|
|11||15 May 1996||Sharpe’s Mission||Napoleonic France||1810 and 1813|
|12||7 May 1997||Sharpe’s Revenge||Toulouse||1814|
|13||14 May 1997||Sharpe’s Justice||Yorkshire, Peace of 1814||1814|
|14||21 May 1997||Sharpe’s Waterloo||Battle of Waterloo||1815|
|15||23 April 2006 (Part 1)
24 April 2006 (Part 2)
|Sharpe’s Challenge||India||1803 and 1817|
|16||2 November 2008||Sharpe’s Peril||India||1818|
Now, we all know the joke and memes about how Sean Bean dies in everything. Now I know that it’s actually just the universe trying to rebalance the karma for Bean’s characters, because Richard Sharpe survives 16 movies in some of the most brutal encounters TV was allowed to show at the time, and despite being a very mortal hero, was nigh un-killable.
I managed to get my hands on Sharpe’s Rifles, the first entry in the series, and I was hooked. COMPLETELY HOOKED. I ended up binge watching through the entire series almost back to back over the last couple weeks.
This is a definitely recommend, and I give it a solid two thumbs up.
Why should you watch this?
Have you ever been the person who knew their job, knew what to do, but was surrounded by a boss or someone in charge who was clueless? Have you ever had to fight for respect against people who think you didn’t deserve it, and work ten times as hard to just to get one ounce of respect? Have you ever been blamed for someone else’s incompetence? Or found that despite having someone believe in you, mentor you, and try to help you rise on merit, it ends up a mixed blessing because as you climb through the ranks, you realize the struggle only gets tougher, not easier?
Sharpe is a series based off of Horatio Hornblower, but instead of the main character being from nobility, he’s the son of a prostitute, raised as an orphan among whores, who joined the army looking for a little bit of pay and a quick death. What he found though, was that he was an excellent fighter and soldier.
The series begins with “Sharpe’s Rifles” and his timely rescue of Arthur Wellington, (yes, THAT Wellington, the general who was arguably as good or better than Napoleon), who gives Sharpe a field commission to become an officer, raising Sharpe out of the rank-and-file, and into the ranks of the officers. During this time, most officers were nobles who bought their way into the army, so this is a set up for a huge culture clash. Sharpe is caught between the upper crust of nobility, and his own men who want to mutiny, since they believe he is no better than they are. Richard has to learn how to lead effectively, and learn fast, as he’s surrounded on all sides in every facet of his life by people looking to end him.
Each episode, (in reality, each is a two-hour movie clocking in at 1:41 minutes without commercials) is typically based off the book with the same name, and doesn’t waste any time being sadistic to Sharpe. He is challenged on the battlefield as a soldier and off the battlefield by politics, society, and domestic life. I don’t want to spoil anything, so I won’t break down each film here. Needless to say, the series puts Richard Sharpe through the paces as a man, a soldier, a spy, and even with relationships. The series does have a surprising touch of romance, which further explores the difference between how masculinity and honor are defined by Sharpe and the other men around him with the women they meet.
If you can get your hands on the series, (or catch it on a streaming service, or even YouTube), it’s worth it. Yes, it’s an older series about an even older time, but the great thing about good storytelling is that a good story is timeless.
Sharpe’s themes and his struggle with meritocracy vs. nobility is just as relevant today as it was 200 years ago. What makes you “noble?” Your actions define you, not your birth, and Sharpe is a series that constantly drives that point home. If you want to be a good person, then you have to work at it; no one is evil or good simply because of how they were born, and everyone has the capacity to change their stripes.