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Sharpe's Challenge
Sharpe's Challenge - Starring Sean Bean
  Behind the Camera
Sharpe’s Challenge writer: Russell Lewis
Sharpe’s Challenge writer: Russell Lewis
"It was particularly exciting, not to say a little emotional, morning when cast and crew gathered together to read through the script."
Ten years ago Russell Lewis was asked to write the television adaptation of Sharpe’s Battle. It was such a good experience he was happy to be involved in Sharpe’s return. He explains: “It had always been Malcolm Craddocks’ dream to film Sharpe’s Tiger, but because the story was essentially a prequel to the Peninsular adventures, which culminated in Waterloo, rank was very much an issue. At the end of Waterloo, Sharpe is a Lt.Colonel, however, in Tiger he’s still a Private, which obviously colours a lot of the adventure – his place in the military pecking order, how he was able to speak to higher ranks and how much independence he could credibly exhibit.

“So, we resolved to construct a new adventure based in part on Bernard Cornwell’s Indian novels, but set after Waterloo, and which would fit in with Bernard’s guideline for “an adventure in the high hills.” I did some digging and found a somewhat overlooked campaign – the 2nd Maratha War 1817-1818 – which by employing a certain amount of the fog of war we could press into service. This was a very different prospect to Sharpe’s Battle, not least because of the present geo-political situation, and felt, creatively, a bit like walking a tightrope over a minefield. The scripts were written against the backdrop of the Iraq war and so the central antagonist of Sharpe’s Tiger, the Tippoo, or Tipu Sultan – a proud Muslim warrior-king with a just grievance – was redrawn as the young and idealistic Hindu princeling Khande Rao.”

“The role of villain-in-chief fell to William Dodd – a renengade East India Company officer – who features in “Triumph” and “Fortress”. It felt right to shift the emphasis across to Dodd, who, when all’s said and done, was after exactly the same thing as the East India Company – riches and power. In his machinations, Dodd was assisted and encouraged by the former courtesan Madhuvanthi, another character I was able to crib from history (albeit her name has been changed). As for our hero, I felt the story had to acknowledge to some degree the time that had passed for Sharpe since we left him on the hill at Mont St.Jean. So, we find him a little older, a little wiser, and initially reluctant to be drawn back into wars in far off places – even if the request does come from Wellington. He has become a farmer in France and hoped to have put the killing behind him. Of course, with Sharpe being Sharpe it was never going to be that easy.

“Sharpe decides to go to India from his sense of duty to his greatest friend – Patrick Harper. Certainly, there’s a theme of friendship running through the piece, and, even so far as the French, Sharpe’s historical enemies, are concerned, I’ve tried to underline the notion that sooner or later even old enemies have to make peace and embrace one another.

“Being involved in bringing Sharpe back to televisual life was a true ‘consumation devoutly to be wished.’ I’m a huge fan of Bernard’s books, so to get to play with his hero and be a part of it all was ‘high cotton.’ It was particularly exciting, not to say a little emotional, morning when cast and crew gathered together to read through the script. Sean was in fantastic form – looking and sounding better than ever. So it was eyes down for a full house, Scene One, page one, and with a cry of “Rifles! To me!” we were off on Sharpe’s Challenge!”

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