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 English 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.
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, however, 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.
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 pretending to be 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 attractive 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.
You can find a full index of Sharpe’s Film here.
Production & Filming Details
- Director: Tom Clegg.
- Writer: Russell Lewis.
- Music: Dominic Muldowney and John Tams.
- Original Network: ITV1.
- Release Date: 23 April 2006 (Part 01) and 24 April 2006 (Part 02).
- Running Time: 138 minutes (2 x 90 minutes minus adverts)).
- Country: UK.
- Language: English.