Sharpe: A Series In Need Of An Update

While Sharpe was a popular show in the 90s, it could do with another look.

sharpe sean bean

If you’ve been following my writing on this website, you’ll know that I think that reboots and remakes are trends in the film and television industries that need to be curbed — most of the time.

The reason that this needs to stop is that all of these remakes seem to be from projects which were – or still are – fairly popular or don’t have any major problems in their design. What really needs to be remade are shows and movies that are inherently flawed and could do with a new perspective. Just take a look at the 2007 Golden Compass film in comparison to the 2019 BBC adaptation of His Dark Materials.

This leads to the question: what previous films and TV shows could be remade? An interesting example of this could be the Sharpe series, because although it was a successful show at the time of its release, it still has its fair share of problems which are ample reason for a remake.

Sharpe is a fictional period drama set during the Napoleonic wars, loosely adapted from the book series by Bernard Cornwell. The books follow the story of Richard Sharpe, an enlisted soldier in the British army who gets promoted to a rifle officer after an insane act of bravery, with the rest of the books following his adventures along with his team of elite sharpshooters. In 1993, a TV series was commissioned with each of the episodes attempting to squeeze one of the Sharpe books into a feature length running time with varying success. Out of the twenty-four Sharpe books that were written, sixteen got adapted for TV, with the final episode airing in 2006. If a remake were to be picked up this year, it would have roughly the same time gap as the Golden Compass and His Dark Materials: still fresh in the minds of fans, but with enough time having passed for it to age appropriately.

One of the more interesting factors of a hypothetical remake of Sharpe would be the leading role. Sean Bean stars as Richard Sharpe, which effectively launched his career in film and television. In the books, Richard Sharpe is an unusually tall man with black hair from London who has a pronounced scar on his face – so who better to play him than a five-foot nine blond from Yorkshire? But it was such an outstanding performance from the new actor that Bernard Cornwell dedicated one of his future books, Sharpe’s Battle, to the actor, as well as creating a rationale for Sharpe’s Yorkshire accent, establishing that Sharpe escaped from London to Yorkshire to after murdering his old boss when he was a teenager.

Though Bean’s performance is outstanding, some of Sharpe’s character was lost in terms of writing through the adaptation process. He gives little speeches about how war brought him and his men together. This is a stark contrast to the Sharpe of the books, who had been fighting for as long as he could remember and had no concept of a life without war. If the show was to get remade, it would be nice to see a gruffer, more violent Sharpe. Some potential candidates would be Christian Bale or Tom Hardy as both have played their share of tough guys before, or even Taron Egerton as a younger Richard Sharpe, as he’s played a young hard man in Kingsman.

One of the biggest problems of the adaptation process is the scope of it: the Sharpe books centre around large armies going head to head at the scale of something akin to Game of Thrones, something a show from the nineties couldn’t achieve. While Sharpe’s Chosen Men is a group of thirty men, this is brought down to a handful in the show. In the battle sequences, men in the books are eviscerated by cannon fire, sending blood and guts everywhere. Meanwhile in the show, the actors just kind of fall over. In the books, ten thousand French cavalry come riding over the hill, while in the TV show, it’s more like…twenty. Even the budgeting may not have been as big as the series deserved, with some footage of the battle sequences being used again and again. CGI was in its infancy when the show came out, so using it would’ve been a huge gamble. However, the technology has advanced that much that it would be possible.

To return to Game of Thrones, it was one of the first series that showed that TV could be on the same scale as Hollywood blockbusters. It was also a prime example of the fact that modern shows can get away with a lot more gore and violence than something from the 90’s. When extras die in this show, the fact it’s a performance becomes very obvious – the actors look more like they’re taking an awkward nap. Going back to shows like Game of Thrones, when they died, they really died. There was no doubt that these people were being killed. But this was more a product of the times, as censorship in television was a lot tighter than what it is today. These factors could give Sharpe a scope fitting the gritty nature of the original books.

The thing is with Sharpe is that while it doesn’t work as a faithful adaptation, it was still successful as an independent project. While flawed, it was a standout piece of English television, featuring actors at the start of or in early roles of their career, like Daniel Craig, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Hurley, and of course the king of movie deaths himself, Sean Bean. It was a fairly popular show at the time of its release, with each of the episodes having a fairly high rating on imdb. However, the time at which it was made held back what the original books had imagined. If a TV company now were to pick it up (I’m looking in your direction, HBO) the result would be outstanding, both surpassing what its predecessor was capable of and being a worthy tribute.

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