Sharpe's Challenge

Sharpe's Challenge is a British TV film from 2006, usually shown in two parts, which is part of an ITV series based on Bernard Cornwell's historical fiction novels about the British soldier Richard Sharpe during the Napoleonic Wars. Contrary to most parts of the TV series, Sharpe's Challenge, as well as the follow-up Sharpe's Peril, is not based entirely on one of Cornwell's novels, but it uses and adapts some characters and storylines from Sharpe's Tiger (1997). Both are set in 1817, two years after Sharpe has retired as a farmer in Normandy, so chronologically they come after Sharpe's Waterloo (1815) and before the final novel Sharpe's Devil (1820–21). Some of the events in the film are inspired by events in the first three novels of the series. In Sharpe's Challenge and Sharpe's Peril, Sharpe and his comrade in arms, Patrick Harper, have been temporarily called out of retirement and asked to go to India.

Sharpe's Challenge
Sharpe's Challenge DVD.jpg
British DVD cover
Based onThe Sharpe stories
by Bernard Cornwell
Written byRussell Lewis (screenplay)
Directed byTom Clegg
Theme music composer
Country of originUnited Kingdom
Original languageEnglish
No. of episodes2
Running time138 minutes (2 × 90 minutes minus adverts)[1]
Original networkITV1
Original release23 April 2006 (part I); 24 April 2006 (part II)
Preceded bySharpe's Waterloo
Followed bySharpe's Peril


The film starts with a flashback to 1803 in India, where Sergeant Sharpe (Sean Bean) leads a patrol to an East India Company outpost. He arrives shortly before another supposedly friendly group of soldiers led by Major William Dodd (Toby Stephens). In a treacherous surprise attack, Dodd's men kill almost the entire garrison and makes off with the payroll. However, Sharpe is only wounded and survives by playing dead.

Fourteen years later, in 1817 after his wife Lucille died of fever, Lieutenant Colonel Richard Sharpe, now a farmer in France, is summoned to London by his former commander, the Duke of Wellington (Hugh Fraser), and asked to undertake one more mission for him: to find a man in India. The missing agent was trying to learn the identity of a turncoat officer advising a rebellious Maratha rajah. Sharpe refuses, unwilling to press his luck any further, until he learns that the agent is his old comrade in arms and best friend, Patrick Harper (Daragh O'Malley).

Sharpe sets out for India. On his way to report to General Burroughs (Peter Symonds), he passes a group of soldiers escorting Celia Burroughs (Lucy Brown), the general's daughter. After a short conversation with her, he rides on ahead. He is soon attacked by marauders, but is rescued by Patrick Harper, who shows up just in time.

Celia Burroughs' escort is also attacked, by none other than Dodd; she is captured and taken to the fortress of Khande Rao (Karan Panthaky), the nominal leader of the revolt. However, he is not yet of age and is under the influence of a regent, his late father's favourite concubine, Madhuvanthi (Padma Lakshmi), and her lover, now General William Dodd, who plan to kill Rao before he declares his majority.

Sharpe reaches the encampment of General Burroughs, who is preparing to lay siege to the fortress of Ferraghur. The general is ill, so command has passed to an old, bitter foe of Sharpe's, the cowardly General Sir Henry Simmerson (Michael Cochrane). Simmerson refuses to act without orders and reinforcements from Agra. However, when Sharpe requests permission to infiltrate the enemy fortress, Simmerson is only too happy to allow him to risk his life.

Sharpe and Harper, posing as deserters, are welcomed by the rebels. Sharpe makes the acquaintance of former French Colonel Gudin (Aurélien Recoing), a fellow veteran of the Battle of Waterloo two years earlier. Gudin has been hired to train the men.

Meanwhile, General Burroughs recovers his health, dismisses Simmerson, and commences the siege. Sharpe discovers that Dodd has laid a trap for the British: they will attempt to breach the wall where he has mined it with barrels of gunpowder.

In a skirmish, some British soldiers are captured, among them Sergeant Shadrach Bickerstaff (Peter-Hugo Daly), who had clashed with Sharpe earlier. To avoid torture and execution, Bickerstaff betrays Sharpe. Sharpe and Harper are beaten and imprisoned, but Gudin, disgusted by the barbaric execution of prisoners, helps Sharpe and Harper escape, just as the British launch their assault.

Gudin next attempts to free Celia, but is murdered by Bickerstaff. Sharpe and Harper successfully set off the gunpowder prematurely, resulting in a huge explosion which kills many defenders. Harper encounters and shoots Bickerstaff, while Sharpe goes off in search of Dodd.

When it is clear the fortress has fallen, Dodd prepares to flee. Madhuvanthi attacks him with a knife when she learns that he is going to abandon her; he murders her. Sharpe finds and kills Dodd.

Khande Rao is allowed to keep his throne after he signs a peace treaty, much to Sharpe's disgust. Celia is reunited with her father. Their mission accomplished, Sharpe and Harper ride off. Celia tries to persuade Sharpe to stay, but fails.

Connections to Cornwell novelsEdit

Though the screenplay is set some 15 years later, it can be seen as an amalgam of three Cornwell novels – Sharpe's Tiger, Sharpe's Triumph, and Sharpe's Fortress – set in India between 1799 and 1803.

  • In Sharpe's Tiger, Sharpe (then a private) infiltrates the fortress of Seringapatam, pretending to be a deserter along with Lieutenant Lawford, instead of Patrick Harper (whom he has not yet met). He is ordered to do so on the initiative of Colonel Wellesley, while in the screenplay, he is persuaded to go to India by the same man (though with a much higher rank). They infiltrate the fortress shortly before it is laid to siege, with the intention of saving Colonel Hector McCandless, head of the East India Company's intelligence service. To test his loyalty, Sharpe is told to shoot McCandless with a musket at point-blank range, which he does, having realised that the powder he is using will not fire. In the screenplay, Sharpe is supposed to shoot Harper, with similar results; in both he knows the gunpowder is fake by the taste (the lack of 'saltiness' from the saltpetre is the clue).
  • Colonel Gudin appears in both screenplay and novel as a French officer training Indian soldiers. However, in the novel, he has been sanctioned by Napoleon Bonaparte's government to aid the sultan of Mysore in fighting off the British. In the novel, as in the film, he appears honourable, often opposing the Sultan's wishes to kill prisoners.
  • The role of Sergeant Shadrach Bickerstaff in the screenplay is taken from that of Sergeant Obadiah Hakeswill in the novels. In Sharpe's Tiger, Private Sharpe is the target of Hakeswill's bullying. The scene early on in the screenplay where Sharpe provokes Bickerstaff to fight him mimics a scene at the start of the book in which Hakeswill goads Sharpe into striking him, engineering a punishment of 2,000 lashes for Sharpe, and leading up to the events of the rest of the book. Bickerstaff appears to be a character who dies before the events of Sharpe's Tiger, and whose widow is Sharpe's love interest. The plotline in the screenplay where Bickerstaff effectively deserts to the enemy and becomes Dodd's right-hand man is reminiscent of Hakeswill's actions in Sharpe's Fortress.
  • The use of "jettis" (Indian strongmen) is borrowed from the novels, where they carry out similar acts of violence on the command of the sultan, such as the execution by pounding nails into prisoners' heads using only their bare hands, as depicted in the screenplay.
  • The character of William Dodd is described in Sharpe's Triumph and Sharpe's Fortress. Dodd's introduction to Sharpe and his death at Sharpe's hands in the screenplay are reminiscent of those in the two respective novels.
  • In the novels, Gudin does not die, but is captured by the English after helping Sharpe.

Historical errorsEdit

Simmerson is first shown having ordered the flogging of a sepoy. Flogging was not a punishment meted out in the armies of the East India Company; only King's soldiers were flogged.[citation needed] However, flogging is in character for Simmerson. Including a flogging as Sharpe meets him here is a callback to their first meeting (in Sharpe's Eagle, both book and screenplay), where Simmerson is having men flogged for the crimes of others, and it serves the purpose of marking Simmerson out as antithetical to Sharpe, who was himself unjustly flogged as a Private.


ReceptionEdit gave the series 3.5 out 5 stars, in its 2006 review of the DVD,[2] and also 3.5 out of 5 in its 2010 review of the Bluray.[3]


  1. ^ Sharpe's Challenge official website Archived 2016-03-03 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved 2012-03-04
  2. ^ Paul Mavis posted November 26, 2006. "Sharpe's Challenge". DVD Talk.
  3. ^ Stuart Galbraith IV posted March 27, 2010. "Sharpe's Challenge (Blu-ray)". DVD Talk.

External linksEdit