Sharpe’s Rifles (1993) First of a Series of 14 British TV Movies on the Napoleonic Wars

If America only knew how good this was, it would be the highest rated Made-For-TV movie series of all time (hard to believe there are more people out there that would rather watch “The Columbo Mysteries” than Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe Chronicles- that just goes to show the power of major network name-brand advertising. (Comment from a US IMBD reviewer)

The British TV movie Sharpe´s Rifles is the first of 14 installments focussing on the fictional character Lt.Sharpe. Bernard Cornwell’s novels are the source for this series. There are certain parallels to the Hornblower series (see Hornblower post) with the difference that Sharpe shows the Napoleonic wars on land. Unlike the Hornblower sequences these are full-length movies, each 110 minutes long.

I started to watch it on the last weekend and am really quite taken by it. This enthusiasm is certainly also due to Sean Bean´s starring as Sharpe. He is an excellent choice for this rough but likable maverick and daredevil.

In the first movie we get to know Sharpe and the motley crew of Chosen Men (snipers riflemen) that is very unwillingly under his command. Sharpe who is a sergeant is promoted to lieutenant because he saves General Wellesley´s life. Promoting someone from the ranks who is, like Sharpe, not a gentleman, proves to be somewhat problematic. The other officers don´t accept him because he is not one of them, the soldiers do not accept him because he is one of them. He really has a hard time proving himself and on top of that they are at war.

Sharpe´s Rifles takes place in 1809 in Portugal. Spain and Britain are supposedly allies against France but it seems as if Spain is not 100% decided on which side they want to fight.

Sharpe and his men, together with a company of officers and soldiers, are sent on a secret mission to find a banker that has disappeared and are attacked by a group of French soldiers. Apart from Sharpe and his men everybody gets killed.

In this movie Sharpe also meets Teresa or “El comandante Teresa” for the first time. Having survived rape and the butchering of her family by the French she holds  a bit of a grudge against the French and men in general. Even so, love at first sight strikes them both. The whole love story part did actually remind me a lot of the one in The Last of the Mohicans. Teresa is a strong woman, the leader of her men and a very capable fighter herself.

After they have met, the main story line follows Sharpe, his men and Teresa on their way to a little Spanish town where they must raise the Spanish flag. Ok, this is not a gripping idea but it is excusalbele as this was the first movie in a long series and its main goal is to introduce us to the characters.

From the reviews I read I can deduce that there are much better installments still to come. As a first part this was very, very promising and I am looking forward to watch more of it.

No worries, I am not going to review them all. I´ll probabaly do some sort of final assessment once if have seen the others. For the time being I just wanted to share my discovery.

Below you find the beginning of part I. I think this should help you decide if you want to go for it.

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9 thoughts on “Sharpe’s Rifles (1993) First of a Series of 14 British TV Movies on the Napoleonic Wars

  1. warmoviebuff says:

    Welcome to my favorite series! I am a huge fan. I first saw “Rifles” on public broadcasting about twenty years ago and was immediately hooked. I have read all the books (I had avoided historical fiction prior to this) and have copies of all the movies. Richard Sharpe is my favorite literary character. Sean Bean is perfect in the role. I usually show this first episode in my Military History class and emphasize the lessons in leadership. The series has some of the best villains that you will encounter, especially Obediah Hakeswell. The author Bernard Cornwell is excellent and very serious about historical accuracy. I envy you being where I was long ago. Now all I can look forward to is the rare new movie with a aged Sharpe. He still kicks ass, however. Enjoy the ride!

    • I am always happy to discover something new (to me). Glad to hear the books are good as well. That is actually something I was wondering. I think I am tempted to read at least one. I enjoy the movies a lot. Your favourite literary character. Imagine.

  2. warmoviebuff says:

    By the way, not to be a smarty-pants, but Sharpe’s unit is riflemen. They are not snipers, although they are good shots. The British were the first to develop this concept of grouping riflemen together and using them mainly as skirmishers and for special missions. This turned into an advantage against the French because Napoleon felt muskets were sufficient in the arms of all his infantry. He also did not bother with accuracy of fire, relying on volume instead.

    • I am glad about your comment as I used this word for lack of a better one (as fluent as my English normally is I am not a native speaker). And you provide ineteresting information. I was wondering how historically accurate the series is. I read somewhere it was not, apart from the uniforms. When I was a kid I was such a Napoleon fan… I am a far way from feelings like this but I can’t help to consider these movies to be highly anti-French.

  3. warmoviebuff says:

    The series is not as accurate as the books, however it is certainly more accurate than the Hornblower series. Several of the books are centered around actual battles in the Peninsular War. (This has caused me read a lot on this war.) Because of the low budget nature of the movies, they are not able to recreate the battles very well. A good example is the book on Waterloo which is about as good a novel about the battle that you will find, but the TV episode comes up short as a history lesson. My favorite novel in the series is Sharpe’s Company which deals with the Battle of Badajoz. It is faithful historically. I give Cornwell a lot of credit for his research. I saw an interview with him in conjunction with the Rifles movie. He explained his theme of how the officer class was apart from the enlisted men. He was spot on.

  4. […] am still watching the Sharpe series and Postlethwaite has a particularly nasty role in it but still, there is something about this guy. […]

  5. […] Sharpe (GB 1993–2008, TV series, 16 parts)  Sean Bean, John Tams, Elizabeth Hurley, Pete Postlethwaite  (see my review) […]

  6. […] Sharpe (1993 – 2008) – Napoleonic wars. Infantry and cavalry. Based on the novels by Bernard Cornwell this is a very elaborate and suspenseful series. In its center is the character Sharpe an enlisted man who is such an excellent soldier that he is soon raised to the rank of officer. This is problematic as he isn’t an aristocrat. He faces injustice and adversity. Sean Bean stars as Sharpe. It’s one of the best roles of his career. Here is my post. […]

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