Written by Bernard Cornwell and Russell Lewis
Directed by Tom Clegg
After having watched all of the Sharpe series previously, with Sean Bean’s success in film, I didn’t believe we would ever see another one. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case and he’s come back in recent years to revise the role in two separate films. Sharpe’s Challenge represents the first of these two efforts. It was filmed eight years after Bean portrayed British Soldier Richard Sharpe in Sharpe’s Waterloo. This time, he is a Colonel being sent to protect British interests in India.
Sharpe is summoned from the quiet life he’s been leading as a farmer by Wellington (portrayed by Hugh Fraser). Wellington’s initial request is rejected by Sharpe as he is quite content to leave the business of India to those with interests there. However, he learns that his old friend Harper (portrayed by Daragh O’Malley) is missing there, which entices him enough to take the assignment.
He soon finds Harper and the two work together to try and get to the root of the problems, which include the mass slaughter of British troops and the kidnapping of a General’s daughter. It all seems to be at the hands of a brutal Maharajah, but there is more going on behind the scenes than meets the eye.
This production benefitted from having more money available. It was shot on location in India. The story itself was based on author Bernard Cornwell’s novels about Sharpe’s early days. However, since Bean first portrayed Sharpe in 1992, no one thought it would be at all convincing to portray it as the early adventures. Instead, the story was adapted to take place after his war years following the death of his wife which allows for romantic interludes.
There are some pretty convincing effects, especially a few of the more brutal shots where people are being run through with a sword, beheadings, and lots of blood. It’s definitely more brutal and in line with what would happen in battles such as these, rather than watching people die with little to no blood.
The acting is great. Bean falls back into the role with ease. The years don’t show on him like they do on O’Malley who has aged noticeably as well as put on a few pounds. Hard to imagine how a man living off the land in India fills a uniform the way he does, but it’s a bit of suspending disbelief. The two really have developed a great camaraderie that gets the viewers rooting for them.
The guest cast is pretty good. Padma Lakshmi is a model in India who is wonderful in the role of the treacherous Madhuvanthi – she’s both beautiful and deadly. Lakshmi carries the role quite nicely and it was a surprise. The use of Indian extras for the battle scenes and the location give Sharpe’s Challenge credibility that previous entries in this series didn’t have due to budget limitations. This still doesn’t have the massive amounts of people that would make the battles look authentic, but it’s a bit better than what’s been done in the past.
The DVD has a good number of extras which are excellent. These include a few snippets of an interview with the author of the Sharpe series, Bernard Cornwell. It was a lot of fun to see how the extras reacted to Sean Bean, including one who was determined to get his picture taken with him. I enjoyed the Behind the Scenes footage almost as much as the story itself.
I don’t know that Sharpe’s Challenge would be appreciated by someone who doesn’t know the background of the series. It can be watched and the story can be followed, but understanding the depth of the relationship between Harper and Sharpe is difficult without seeing what they have been through. I totally enjoyed it and thought it was a terrific addition to the series. It was great to see the production with a bit of a larger budget and I’m glad Bean came back to the role.
Now if we could only convince Ioan Gruffudd to go back to Horatio Hornblower again….
· Sharpe’s Challenge Behind the Scenes
· Shortened Scenes & Out-Takes
• Photo Gallery
Previous episode of the series (link): Sharpe’s Waterloo