Series / Sharpe

Here's forty shillings on the drum
To those who volunteer to come,
To 'list and fight the foe today
Over the Hills and far away.

Sharpe is a British series of historical war television movies starring Sean Bean as Richard Sharpe, a fictional British soldier in The Napoleonic Wars, alongside Daragh O'Malley as Patrick Harper, and a slew of British talent in supporting roles (see Trivia). Sharpe is the hero of a number of novels by Bernard Cornwell; much of the plot and backstory from the novels was compressed, modified or jettisoned, and several new stories were invented for the screen.

The series originally ran regularly between 1993 and 1997, with two additional miniseries in 2006 and 2008. The series was well-received and proved a breakout role for Bean, who went on to star in GoldenEye, The Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones.

Tropes exemplified in TV movies:

  • Adaptational Badass: Lt. Berry from Sharpe's Eagle is a fat blubbering henchman to Lt. Gibbons in the novel. In the TV version he's played by Daniel Craig and becomes a considerably more dangerous villain, while Lt. Gibbons is secondary to him.
  • Adaptation Decay:
    • The films lack the scale of the battle scenes as described in the books due to budget limitations. For example, the bridge at Talavera is wooden in film, it was stone in the novel.
    • Sharpe's Challenge is an adaptation of prequel books in which Sgt. Obadiah Hakeswill is the main villain, but is set after most of the episodes including the one where Hakeswill finally dies, so Sharpe is given a Hakeswill expy villain who isn't particularly convincing.
  • Adaptation Distillation: In the novels, Sharpe saves Wellington's life in India in 1803. This is moved to 1809 Spain for the film of Sharpe's Rifles.
  • Affably Evil: Pot au Feu, the French quartermaster in Sharpe's Enemy and one half of a Big Bad Duumvirate with Hakeswill, is noticeably cordial and welcoming for a deserter, offering to cook for his captives.
    • Sir Willoughby Parfitt from Sharpe's Justice is another good example and is incidentally played by the same actor.
  • Arch-Enemy: Obadiah Hakeswill is somewhat downplayed in this role in the series, appearing only in Sharpe's Company and Sharpe's Enemy. However, the effect he has on Sharpe still lasts throughout the series.
    • Major Pierre Ducos does a decent job of picking up the baton, repeatedly attempting to not only have Sharpe killed but have him die a dishonourable death in revenge for a relatively minor insult. Following his introduction in Sharpe's Enemy, he acts as the Man Behind the Man in later episodes Sharpe's Honour, Sharpe's Siege (in which he and Sharpe never meet despite being aware of each other's involvement) and Sharpe's Revenge.
    • Arguably, Sir Henry Simmerson, by virtue of appearances throughout the series, serving as a recurring obstacle of Sharpe's in Sharpe's Eagle, Sharpe's Sword, Sharpe's Regiment and Sharpe's Challenge.
  • Aristocrats Are Evil: Played Straight and Subverted. On screen at least pretty much ever other officer Sharpe meets is an aristocrat, and while many turn out to be antagonists or incompetents, others are honorable characters and become allies of Sharpe. The Duke of Wellington is portrayed in a generally favorable light, and the Prince of Wales, while being portrayed as a total lunatic, becomes a patron of Sharpe's. The trope is further subverted in Sharpe's Justice in which the villain is not an aristocrat, but a monied commoner who compares himself directly to Sharpe as a man from humble beginnings who rose to prominence on his own merit.
  • Army of Thieves and Whores: The whole British Army, even the elite riflemen, are shown as a Truth in Television example of this. Sharpe is given no illusions about this early on in his command.
    Sharpe: Did you volunteer for this lot, Cooper?
    Cooper: Uh no, not exactly sir. I was invited to join... by a magistrate.
  • Artistic License History: The TV series uses the term "Chosen Men" a lot more than the novels, where it's just the equivalent of "Lance Corporal" instead of a term for all Rifles.
  • Autobots, Rock Out!: The series' opening theme tune is played on the electric guitar. Sean Bean's credit in the opening titles is announced by a distinctive single chord, and during the closing credits, John Tams' rendition of 'Over the Hills and Far Away' morphs into a full blown guitar solo.
  • Badass Longcoat: Greatcoats were pretty common for soldiers in that period, but Sean Bean made them look awesome.
  • Battle Couple: Sharpe and Teresa, particularly in some of the TV movies.
  • Blatant Lies: Simmerson in Sharpe's Eagle when he delivers a field report about a bridge's destruction to Wellington, stating that Major Lennox panicked and that Sharpe dithered. Doubly so since Wellington already knows what happened thanks to Hogan.
  • The Book Cipher: A book cipher plays an important role in the TV version of Sharpe's Sword. The key text is Voltaire's Candide.
  • Call Back: In the first television special, Dan Hagman advises Sharpe to treat an old wound with brown paper and paraffin oil. eight specials later, when Sharpe has just recovered from being shot Dan Hagman gives Sharpe a gift of best brown paper and paraffin oil.
  • Casting Gag: Possibly unintentional, but Sean Bean was cast in the lead role in a Made-for-TV Movie called Bravo Two Zero, based on the questionably accurate memoirs of an SAS veteran whose mission behind enemy lines went horribly wrong. What regiment was said lead character part of before passing Selection? The Royal Green Jackets, a descendant of the 95th Regiment of Foot (Rifles).
  • Combat Pragmatist: Sharpe fights dirty when the need arises. Harper certainly has his moments, too.
  • Demoted to Extra: Because the TV version of Sharpe's Rifles introduces Teresa early, Major Blas Vivar's role is downplayed in her favor. In the books, Teresa debuts in Sharpe's Gold.
  • Downer Ending: The TV version of what was to be the last episode, Sharpe's Waterloo, included two of Sharpe's best men and close friends, who had appeared in every previous episode, being killed due to incompetence by the Prince of Orange. And then the recent revival Sharpe's Challenge made matters worse by killing off Sharpe's wife soon after they were married, whereas in the books they live Happily Ever After.
  • The Dragon: Lt. Berry (played by Daniel Craig) plays this role to Sir Henry Simmerson in Sharpe's Eagle. Borders on Dragon-in-Chief in the second half of the episode when Simmerson tells Berry to get rid of Sharpe, since Berry makes the plans.
  • Edible Ammunition: In Sharpe's Honour, Major Richard Sharpe goes to a convent to rescue/retrieve a woman who was set up to accuse him of murder and is actually a French spy. She's held in the kitchen, cooking, and when Sharpe makes his appearance, the nuns attack him with food like chicken and vegetables. Sharpe grabs the chicken himself and uses the classic move of turning around. That's how you fight wicked nuns.
  • Enemy Mine: Sharpe and General Calvet in the TV episode Sharpe's Revenge.
  • Ensign Newbie: Ensign Denny in Sharpe's Eagle. He doesn't make it through the episode.
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Obadiah Hakeswill. Although it's more of an insane fixation. Sharpe, conversely, doesn't seem to care about who his mother was (she's never even named). In the books. The TV adaptation did name her, as Lily, and we learn that Gene Hunt is Sharpe's brother. Which explains a lot, really, coz if they aren't a Badass Family, who is?
  • Fire-Forged Friends: In the TV series, Sir Henry Simmerson is one of the longest-running Sharpe antagonists, appearing intermittedly ever since the first episode. However, it's only in the latest episode, Sharpe's Peril, that Sharpe and Simmerson find themselves actually fighting the bad guys as part of the same unit, and after the battle, Simmerson is a good deal friendlier to Sharpe than ever before, actually shaking his hand and calling him "Richard".
    Harper: Now I've seen everything.
  • Five-Man Band: The TV version of Sharpe and the Chosen Men:
  • Food Slap: Wine tossed into face, courtesy of Richard Sharpe to two jerk officers in Sharpe's Eagle.
  • Girl of the Week: Subverted. Sharpe gets married and has the same Love Interest from movie to movie just as often as he has temporary flings.
  • Good Scars, Evil Scars: Sharpe periodically removes his shirt with his back to the camera, thus reminding viewers that he still carries scars from a long-ago (and nearly lethal) flogging. In Sharpe's Eagle he does so before a group of soldiers, making sure they know he too was once one of them.
    "The South Essex. Sir Henry aside, Sharpe, what do you make of them, man for man?"
    "They're flogged soldiers, sir. And flogging teaches a man only one lesson."
    "What's that, Richard?"
    "How to turn his back."
    • Obadiah Hakeswill, on the other hand, has a scar round his neck which only adds to his freakish and sinister appearance.
    • Firmly averted, on the other hand, by William Frederickson, whose facial injuries make him truly hideous but is one of Sharpe's staunchest allies at least until they find themselves competing for the same woman.
    • Similarly averted by Major Septimus Pyecroft, who is missing a forearm and whose own facial injuries necessitate the wearing of a leather hood, but is also one of Sharpe's allies and defends a gypsy girl from rogue English troops.
  • Good Old Fisticuffs: Sharpe gets into a fist fight with Lt. Berry in Sharpe's Eagle when the latter tries to rape Josefina.
  • Groin Attack: Harper grabs Sharpe in the balls during a fight in Sharpe's Rifles. Sharpe returns the favor in another fight in the same episode.
    • Sharpe tries to kick Berry in the balls in a fight in Sharpe's Eagle. Berry only sniggers.
  • Human Shield: Theresa uses Perkins as one when the Spanish guerillas encounter Sharpe in Sharpe's Rifles.
  • Hypercompetent Sidekick: Berry to Gibbons in Sharpe's Eagle. Gibbons is on higher social standing, being the nephew of an aristocrat, while Berry is his friend, but Berry is smarter and tougher.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice:
    • Lt. Berry is run through by Harper with a bayonet in Sharpe's Eagle.
    • Ensign Denny is impaled by a French rifleman at the end of Sharpe's Eagle.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: Berry boasts of these in Sharpe's Eagle.
    Berry: "Nobody can beat me with a pistol at 50 paces."
  • Improbable Weapon User: Harper uses a ramrod as a bullet in Sharpe's Rifles.
  • In-Name-Only: The TV version of Sharpe's Gold, which involves Aztec human sacrifice in Spain.
  • Ironic Nursery Tune: Almost an inversion - "Over the Hills and Far Away" is frequently used this way, but justified by its being an old folk song about the military.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: The TV version of Sharpe.
    Marie-Angelique: You are a good man, Richard, whatever you would have the world think.
  • Last Request: Major Lennox asks Sharpe to get a French Imperial Eagle to make up for losing the King's Colours before dying of his wounds in Sharpe's Eagle.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Just look at how often Sean Bean shows up on that page. Shirtless Scenes in spades.
  • Miles Gloriosus and The Neidermeyer: The Army is filled with them because the books and series are set at a time when wealthy men looking for glory bought their commissions and merit-based promotions were extremely rare. The Duke of Wellington is Genre Savvy enough to know when subordinate officers are trying to blow smoke up his assnote .
    • The chief Neidermeyer for the series would be Sir Henry Simmerson, the original commander of the South Essex Regiment. He's more concerned with superficial things like proper marching and making sure his men stand ramrod straightnote . He's absolutely useless in combat and spends every appearance as the Butt Monkey of every character he goes against.
    • For Miles Gloriosus, Lieutenant Colonel Girdwood from Sharpe's Regiment would be the prime example. He writes poetry extolling the glory of combat, but has never fought a real battle in his life. Sharpe eventually bullies Girdwood into leading the South Essex into combat, but a near miss from a cannonball reduces him to a blubbering mess.
  • Not So Different: In Sharpe's Rifles, Sharpe discovers that he's risking his men's lives for an ancient legend: that if the flag of St James is hoisted at Torre Castro, the people of Spain will rise up against the French. Furiously, he confronts Hogan:
    Sharpe: Do you really believe men will fight and die for a rag on a pole?
    Hogan: You do, Richard. You do.
  • Rape as Backstory: Theresa has this, as explained in Sharpe's Rifles.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: Berry and Gibbons gave Josefina a "nice honeymoon." What's worse, they (Berry in particular) only did it to try and piss Sharpe off enough to lead to his disgrace.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: A perfectly historically correct flintlock lighter, which no-one seems able to identify, shows up in the first episode.
  • Schmuck Bait: In the TV version of Sharpe's Rifles, Sharpe gets Harris to make a sign reading "Keep Out" in French, and puts it at the entrance of a booby-trapped building. Sure enough, the next French cavalrymen to pass fall for it.
  • The Squad: Sharpe and the Chosen Men. More prominent in the TV series, where there's only five Chosen Men besides Sharpe and they get a lot of character development, compared to the books where there's a dozen or two Riflemen who are only named and mentioned specifically when needed.
  • Shout-Out: George Wickham, a military officer and antagonist of Sharpe's Justice, shares a name with a character from Pride and Prejudice, who is also a military officer and an antagonist.
  • Spot of Tea: This being the British army, tea is prevalent. In fact, Sharpe drinks a lot more tea on screen than he does liquor, in spite of being a ranker at heart. He also has vocal opinions on his subordinates' tea-making skills.
    Harris: Come now, sir! Have some soup!
    Sharpe: Soup... if Harper were here, he'd have the tea ready, and he'd have my tent up...
  • Standard Snippet: "The Girl I Left Behind Me" is one of the regular leitmotifs.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: The intelligence officers who replace Major Hogan in later episodes of the TV show.
  • Suspiciously Small Army: In the TV series, the units involved in the battles tend to be rather small, no doubt because of budget constraints. Often works fine when depicting small-unit actions in Spain, breaks down miserably when trying to depict the battle of Waterloo. In Sharpe's Eagle the entire Light Company is thus missing except for the Riflemen, who were supposed to only be attached to that company - which makes Wellesley's praise for the Light Company unintentionally hilarious.
  • Take a Third Option: In Sharpe's Rifles, the Man in Black presents Sharpe with two rival visions for Spain: A dark, superstitious monastery, or an enlightened, scholarly court. Sharpe replies that he's neither a monk nor a prince, so he'd choose a tavern.
  • Take Up My Sword: In Sharpe's Rifles, Captain Murray gives Sharpe his sword so the other men will recognize him as an officer before he dies from his wounds.
  • Threw My Bike on the Roof: The series has both a hero and a villain destroying each other's stuff.
    • In "Sharpe's Enemy", Sharpe gets heartbroken, and in utter frustration, he destroys a French spy's glasses. Said spy came to demand that the British surrender. The spy was a jerk ass and had it coming. Nothing to gain from it, except it was a good way of showing the French Jerk who the alpha dog is.
    • In "Sharpe's Honour", the jerkass spy plans an elaborate revenge because Sharpe's chosen men and the British army defeated the French in a battle that he thought was an easy French victory. After series of misfortunes, Sharpe ends up caught by the French. The spy smashes Sharpe's telescope that he received from Wellington himself. Nice try doing your revenge and trying to break Sharpe, jerk spy, but it was a bad idea. Sharpe used one broken piece as a weapon and it helped him to escape.
  • Token Enemy Minority: Major Leroy, an American Loyalist officer in the British regular army at a time when England was still occasionally in direct conflict with the United States like The War of 1812.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Hakeswill and Girdwood. Simmerson is constantly on the verge of one.
  • Villainous Crush: Gibbons has one for the Countess Josefina in Sharpe's Eagle. She falls for Sharpe instead, then Leroy.
  • Warrior Poet: Rifleman Harris, created for the TV series, is the closest thing the series has to this trope. In one of the movies, Sharpe's Sword, he's involved in a lengthy sub-plot were he must find a copy of Voltaire's Candide in order to find a French spy. Besides that, he's one of the few literate members of The Squad, and Sharpe often gets a lot of esoteric information from him, whether he wants it or not.
  • You Are in Command Now: Sharpe takes command of the Chosen Men when Captain Murray dies.