Sean is Sharpe


By Myriam Lechuga

It is an interesting phenomenon when a role becomes so identified with an actor that this portrayal becomes that character forever in the public’s mind. I’m sure this phenomenon has a number of consequences for the actor, the producers, the writers, and the director of a series or film and also for the creator of the character.

When Sean Bean, by a twist of fate, got the role of Richard Sharpe in a series based on Bernard Cornwell’s popular novels, he made the role his own. No matter the description in the early novels of Sharpe as a black haired Londoner, after 1993 Sharpe was now and forever a blond man from Yorkshire. His creation of the role is so vivid, that for some fans Richard Sharpe is almost a separate person from actor Sean Bean. The consequences for Sean Bean’s career are many, but one consequence is indisputable, that Richard Sharpe and the Sharpe series made him a huge star in the UK.



The Sharpe series is also about merit and friendship. Merit, because at a time when money was the road to promotion in the British military, Richard Sharpe, son of a prostitute and penniless orphan, rises through the ranks and becomes an officer due to his skill, intelligence, and cunning. He’s also a true gentleman, not by birth and money, but by nature and charm. Sean Bean is perfect at portraying this duality in Sharpe’s character. He skilfully portrays a man who is sure of his luck and skill in battle, yet insecure in society. Sean is also very believable in portraying Sharpe in the early episodes of the series as a natural but inexperienced leader who is at first not accepted by his men as a "proper officer". But with "tough love" he forms a strong bond with Sergeant Patrick Harper and with the Chosen Men under his command. In the clips below we see some of these layers of character in Sean Bean’s performance:

That brings me to Richard Sharpe as Romantic Hero. Why would a series about war have such a large female audience? I would say the answer is both Sean Bean and his alter ego Richard Sharpe.

How perfect for a late 20th Century female audience that Sharpe’s first love in the series is a soul mate, a woman warrior and guerilla leader, Teresa Moreno, played by Spanish actress Assumpta Serna. Teresa is Sharpe in reverse, a young woman of wealth who because of the rape and pillage of French soldiers becomes a rebel leader and a killer of the enemy. She is Sharpe’s first true love and Sean Bean as officer and gentleman knows how to turn flawlessly from soldier to lover. We can see in his eyes, and his body language that he can make us believe the battle hardened solider can also be tender, passionate, gallant, and understanding to his women.

Combine this with a dashing uniform and a handsome man, and women fans continue to follow the series, and read the books. We can get a glimpse of Sean as romantic hero in the video below of several romantic scenes between Sharpe (Sean Bean) and Teresa (Assumpta Serna):

Richard Sharpe is the creation of Bernard Cornwell and is the main character in his series of historical novels about the British Army under the command of Arthur Wellesley, later the Duke of Wellington, during the Napoleonic Wars and also in India. Bernard Cornwell says of his creation:

Sharpe is a villain; he's a rogue, but he's our rogue, he's our villain.

The Sharpe television series aired in the UK between 1993 and 1997. After a break of several years, Sean returned to the role of Richard Sharpe in two series filmed in India: Sharpe’s Challenge, which aired in April 2006, and Sharpe’s Peril which aired in November 2008. For those not familiar with the books, the series, or the history behind both, you can go to our Table of Contents for more information

Richard Sharpe is a larger-than-life hero, who kills the French, is loyal to his men, fights enemies within his own ranks, and rescues damsels in distress in his spare time. For Sean Bean the challenge is keeping his Sharpe still very human, a man whose struggle the audience can identify with, whose wins we can celebrate, and whose passions we can relate to.

But did I mention that our romantic hero is not always faithful to his women? Yes, there’s that rogue part again…the bad boy women are supposed to find so irresistible. Sharpe may be true to his loves in heart and soul, but not always in body.    

One of the best speeches by Sharpe from the episode Sharpe's Siege may hold a key to the character's popularity, and Sean Bean's perfect fit for the part   "...I changed my class, I rose in the ranks, I can walk into the officer's mess but I don't expect them to be happy about it...same goes for my time with the lads. I can sit and drink tea, but I'm not one of them anymore. You make your bed and you lie in it without complaining."

What's next for Sharpe?  This Spring Sharpe and Harper will ride again onto US Public Television stations to win more battles and break more hearts.  Sharpe's Challenge is scheduled to air on PBS March 28 and Sharpe's Peril on April 4 as part of Masterpiece Classic.

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