The time: The Napoleonic Wars of 1812-13. The place: the rough plains of Spain and the hills of Portugal. The man: Richard Sharpe.
The daring exploits of the dashing soldier and rifleman Richard Sharpe, a brash young soldier in the Duke of Wellington's army during Britain's battles against the French, return to Mobil Masterpiece Theatre in three all-new action-romance adventures -- "Sharpe's Company," "Sharpe's Enemy" and "Sharpe's Honor." The three programs, each two hours in length, air on three successive Sunday nights -- May 14, 21, and 28 at 9 p.m. ET on PBS. The magnetic Sean Bean is back in the title role of the series, based on the best-selling books by Bernard Cornwell. Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Russell Baker hosts.
The first SHARPE series, which aired in the 1993-94 season of Mobil Masterpiece Theatre, featured two adventures -- "Sharpe's Eagle" and Sharpe's Rifle" -- that introduced a rough-and-tumble crew of characters who risk their lives in dangerous missions and sword fights behind French lines.
Born in a brothel, Sharpe was brought up on the streets and joined the army as a boy. In an act of heroic daring, he saved the life of the Duke of Wellington, Commander of the British forces, and was promoted to lieutenant. But the promotion wasn't easy: the officers disliked Sharpe because he wasn't upper class, and his men didn't respect him because he was no better socially than they were. But Sharpe proved himself through skill and daring on the battlefield and overcame their prejudice. He also fell in love with Teresa (played by Spanish actress Assumpta Serna), the feisty, beautiful leader of a band of Spanish guerrillas fighting Napoleon.
In "Sharpe's Company," the first of the new episodes, Sharpe has been promoted again, this time to the rank of captain -- but he remains uneasy, as anyone with money can still purchase the rank and take over his men. And when he discovers that he is the father of a baby girl with Teresa, he is desperate to rescue his new-found family from a siege of the French-held fortress of Badajoz -- before his enemies get there first.
Perhaps more daunting for Sharpe than his storming the gates of Badajoz are his attempts to thwart his nemesis, Sgt. Obadiah Hakeswill. Played by Pete Postlethwaite (Oscar-nominated for his role as Daniel Day-Lewis's father in In the Name of the Father and co-star of last month's Masterpiece Theatre presentation of Charles Dickens' Martin Chuzzlewit), Hakeswill is a particularly loathsome villain (although not without his insanely comic side), who had Sharpe flogged in India for a crime he did not commit. Hakeswill was once hanged for raping and murdering the daughter of a clergyman -- but, like Rasputin, cheated death and escaped alive. His reappearance in Spain in "Sharpe's Company" becomes another new challenge for Sharpe.
In fact, in "Sharpe's Enemy" (May 21), Hakeswill leads a band of deserters in the kidnapping of Lady Isabella Farthingdale (Elizabeth Hurley), the beautiful wife of an English colonel. Assigned to deliver the ransom and rescue her, Sharpe leads an attack to free her and once again demonstrates his unusual valor. Hakeswill, however, is determined, as always, to have the last word.
In the third tale, "Sharpe's Honor" (May 28), the rifleman unwittingly becomes a pawn in the game of Major Pierre Ducos -- a French spy. Sharpe goes undercover and across enemy lines in order to clear his name of accusations of dishonor. It will take all his perserverance to keep from falling victim to the charms of the tantalizing Marquesa Dorada (Alice Krige) who is at the heart of Ducos' devious plan, and into the trap of the French spy.
Filmed in the stunning unspoiled landscapes of the Black Sea resort of Yalta in the Crimea, the three SHARPE adventures posed huge logistical production problems. Fifty British technicians and 67 British, Spanish, French and Colombian actors and actresses were transported to the Southern Ukraine for a period of 17 weeks. There they joined a team of 20 Russian actors, 30 stuntsmen and 250 technicians -- and each day, a team of six British chefs cooked 900 meals.
The series' spectacular battle scenes involved hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers costumed in the red and blue of the armies of Wellington and Napoleon. The siege of the Spanish fortress city of Badajoz, the thrilling climax of "Sharpe's Company," took ten nights to film in freezing, rainy conditions on a desolate plain.
In all three films, Sean Bean is joined by Hugh Fraser as the Duke of Wellington, Michael Bryne as the spymaster Nairn, and Daragh O'Malley as Sharpe's loyal sidekick, Sergeant Harper.
SHARPE is a Celtic/Picture Palace production for Central TV. Written by Eoghan Harris, Colin MacDonald, Charles Wood. Based on the novels by Bernard Cornwell. Producer: Simon Lewis. Director: Tom Clegg. Executive Producers: Ted Childs, Malcolm Craddock and Muir Sutherland. Presented on PBS by WGBH Boston, Masterpiece Theatre is solely sponsored by Mobil Corporation. Series Executive Producer is Rebecca Eaton. Host is Russell Baker.
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