Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Escape to India
With Richard Sharpe
(That’s Sean Bean)

After five seasons of action-packed adventure films, Sean Bean (North Country, Lord of the Rings, Flightplan -- isn't he totally hot?? Bean's always playing baddies in American productions, but here he's the total romantic hero. Check him out in Lady Chatterly, too -- he co-stars with Natasha Richardson, now of Nip/Tuck) returns to the role of Richard Sharpe with Sharpe’s Challenge, a two-part BBC AMERICA co-production shot entirely in India and written by Russell Lewis (The Best Man, Inspector Morse, Hornblower). Sharpe’s Challenge premieres Saturday, September 2, 9:00 p.m. ET/PT and concludes Sunday, September 3, 9:00 p.m. ET/PT.

A year after the battle of Waterloo, dispatches from India warn that a local Maharaja is threatening British interests. Sharpe is sent to investigate what turns out to be his most dangerous mission to date. The last scout sent — Sharpe’s best friend Sergeant Harper (Daragh O’Malley; Silent Witness, Wire in the Blood) — is missing, and reports suggest that the real masterminds of the uprising are a rogue East India Company Officer, Colonel Dodd (Toby Stephens; The Queen’s Sister, Heat of the Sun), and the power-hungry Madhuvanthi (Padma Lakshmi, The Ten Commandments, Top Chef), a favorite consort to the late Maharaja, now ruling as Regent. Once in India, Sharpe is reunited with Harper, but soon realizes the situation is even worse than he was led to believe. When the daughter of a British General (Lucy Brown, North & South, Frances Tuesday) is kidnapped, Sharpe and Harper disguise themselves as deserters and become part of the Maharaja’s motley crew. However, once inside the fort things don’t quite go as they planned.

Producer Malcolm Craddock says, “It’s unlike anything else on TV. From the beginning we wanted to make a show that wasn’t just all action adventure. We tried to capture the experience that is India — the incredible light, the stunning locations, palaces with jewelled ceilings and grand fortresses.”

Sharpe creator Bernard Cornwell visited the set of Sharpe’s Challenge in Rajasthan. He explains, “Sharpe is Sean’s character now, he is the perfect Sharpe. I’m really pleased he agreed to come back for more. In fact, the television adaptations often improve my books, so I’m happy for them to do as they like.”

On Saturday, August 26, 1:00 p.m. ET/10:00 a.m. PT, go behind the scenes with the special, The Making Of: Sharpe’s Challenge, which features interviews with Sean Bean, the producers, the crew and others on location in India. Screeners are available upon request

HarperCollins Publishers will publish Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe’s Fury, the latest installment in the New York Times Bestselling and critically acclaimed Richard Sharpe series at the end of August, to coincide with the premiere of Sharpe's Challenge. This is the first adventure in the series in nearly three years from the man the Washington Post has called, “Perhaps the greatest writer of historical adventure novels today.”



“The fun can be found in the ease with which Bean commands the screen, in the wonderful villainy of Toby Stephens and in the well-drawn comradeship between Sharpe and his former sergeant Patrick Harper. Sharpe is back. Huzzah.” The Observer

“The story rollicks along and is superbly made and well cast.” Sunday Times


Episode One

A year after Wellington crushes Napoleon at Waterloo, dispatches from India tell of a local Maharaja, Khande Rao (Karan Panthaky), who is threatening British interests there. Wellington (Hugh Fraser) calls upon Sharpe (Sean Bean) to investigate on what turns out to be his most dangerous mission to date. The last scout sent — Sharpe’s best friend, Sgt Harper (Daragh O'Malley) — is missing. But his last report suggests that the real power behind the young Maharaja is Colonel Dodd (Toby Stephens), a rogue East India Company Officer. Dodd has partnered with Madhuvanthi (Padma Lakshmi), the late Maharaja’s favorite palace consort, who is now ruling as Regent. Behind the walls of Rao’s fortress, they have created their own army — Napoleon’s former soldiers now looking to make a fortune in India. The situation gets worse when Celia (Lucy Brown), the daughter of General Burroughs (Peter Symonds), the commander of His Britannic Majesty’s forces in the region, is kidnapped and held in the Maharaja’s fort by his villainous henchman, Colonel Dodd. When General Burroughs becomes ill, the rescue of his daughter is left in the hands of his incompetent General, Sir Henry Simmerson (Michael Cochrane). The British were planning to storm the Maharaja’s fort by blowing up one of the outer walls — but the Maharaja vows to execute the General’s daughter if any such attack is carried out. Sharpe, now reunited with Harper, devises a plan. The two friends will disguise themselves as deserters and become part of the Maharaja’s motley crew. Once inside the fort, they will rescue the General’s daughter and get word to him of her safety — together with details of which side of the fort they should attack. However, once inside the fort, things don’t quite go as Sharpe planned.

Episode one of Sharpe’s Challenge premieres Saturday, September 2, 9:00 p.m. ET/PT

Episode Two

Their loyalty tested, Sharpe and Harper join the French in training the Maharaja’s army. Believing he has discovered a weakness, Simmerson plans an attack on the west wall, but Sharpe realizes they are being lured to that position and are in grave danger. Meanwhile, inside the fort, Sharpe is summoned to Madhuvanthi’s chamber where she tries to seduce him in an effort to win him to her cause. She’s looking for a new ally and was impressed by Sharpe’s earlier display of swordsmanship against General Dodd. Later, when an attack on the fort begins, Sharpe’s attempt to rescue Celia is thwarted when he is forced to join a ground attack on British troops outside the fort. Here he seeks help from an old adversary, Sgt Bickerstaff (Peter-Hugo Daly), who turns on him, but is captured and taken back to the dungeons. Vengeance is on Bickerstaff’s mind as he betrays Sharpe and Harper to save his own life. Restored to health, General Burroughs dismisses Simmerson and retakes command of his army. Princess Lalima (Shruti Vyas) is caught trying to warn Celia’s father of the trap, hoping she can save the life of her brother, Khande Rao (Karan Panthaky), in the process. She is fearful that, once victorious, Dodd and Madhuvanthi will murder him. As the British troops breech the outer walls of the fort with canon fire, will Sharpe free himself in time to save the British soldiers? And could his old enemy, the French, help him along the way?

Episode two of Sharpe’s Challenge premieres Sunday, September 3, 9:00 p.m. ET/PT.


Col Richard Sharpe Sean Bean (North Country, Lord of the Rings, Flightplan)

Sgt Patrick Harper Daragh O’Malley (Silent Witness, Wire in the Blood)

Col William Dodd Toby Stephens (The Queen’s Sister, Heat of the Sun)

Madhuvanthi Padma Lakshmi (Ten Commandments)

Celia Burroughs Lucy Brown (North & South, Frances Tuesday, The Miller’s Tale)

Khande Rao Karan Panthaky

Princess Lalima Shruti Vyas

Wellington Hugh Fraser (Poirot)

Gen Sir Henry Simmerson Michael Cochrane (Murphy’s Law, MI-5, The Innocent)

Gen Burroughs Peter Symonds

Sgt Shadrach Bickerstaff Peter-Hugo Daly (Gangs of New York, Foyle’s War)

Lt Mohan Singh Alyy Khan

Col PierreGudin Aurelien Recoing

Sgt Jaques Bonnet Thierry Hancisse

Casting John Hubbard

Editor Chris Ridsdale

Composers Dominic Muldowney, John Tams

Armourer/Military Advisor Richard Rutherford-Moore

Stunt Co-ordinator Gareth Milne

Writer Russell Lewis

Director Tom Clegg

Producers Malcolm Craddock, Muir Sutherland

Co-producer Julia Stannard

Executive Producers Stuart Sutherland, Kathryn Mitchell, Steve Wilkinson

Sharpe’s Challenge is a Celtic Films Entertainment/Picture Place Films/BBC America co-production for ITV in association with Azure Films and HarperCollins.


Sharpe’s Challenge is the fifteenth Sharpe drama made. Stars Sean Bean and Daragh O’Malley, director Tom Clegg, producers Malcolm Craddock and Muir Sutherland, military advisor Richard Rutherford-Moore and the team of Russian stunt men are the only cast and crew to have worked on all fifteen films.

Locations included the Jaigrah Fort, Meherangah Fort, Samode Desert, Samode Palace and Chomu palace. Some of these national treasures were partially closed to tourists during filming.

Roads were specially constructed to enable crew to access each location. More than 90 construction workers from Mumbai worked — without power tools — to build sets for more than two months.

Elephants, camels, horses, donkeys, oxen and goats were used in filming. All the horses used were supplied and trained by the Jaipur Polo Club.

The crew manufactured or hired 25 practical muskets, 40 non-practical muskets, 110 wooden prop muskets (for background artists), 40 Indian swords, four French swords, two baker rifles, various pistols and six working canons.

More than 4,000 extras were used during filming, there were more than 300 people in the production crew, and up to 800 people were on call each day.

There were six full time tailors on set and most of the 700 costumes were made in India. Over 1,300 feet of silk was used to make the Pindari bandit uniforms, and over 2,700 feet of cotton was needed to create uniforms for the East Indian Company Army.

More than 15,000 servings of curry were eaten during filming.


On returning to the character Sharpe:
“When we finished the Battle of Waterloo it felt like the natural conclusion for that particular group of Sharpe films but I always thought that one day we would get together to make more. I needed a few years to try different things, as did other members of cast and crew. So that’s what we did, we all went in different directions — but I was always excited by the prospect of getting back together again. Then after a while Malcolm Craddock and Muir Sutherland, the producers, Tom Clegg, the director, and I started discussing the possibility of doing another. We got a really good script written by Russell Lewis and just thought let’s go ahead and do it! It’s quite a bizarre feeling bringing him back to life — picking up a sword again and putting on the green jacket — but I really enjoyed filming Sharpe’s Challenge. I think it’s probably the best we’ve done because of the nature of the film and because we were so unrestrained filming in India. You don’t often see these kind of panoramas on TV. It’s got great scale to it, a big budget and some fantastic characters.”

On how Sharpe has changed over the years:

“I think he has mellowed to some extent, and become a lot calmer. He’s a farmer now and that’s how he wants to live his life. He’s been shot at more times than most and he’s very fortunate to still be walking around alive. He’s reluctant to go back to soldiering. He’s not lost any of his admirable qualities, his beliefs or values or fighting ability, but he is a reluctant warrior when we find him at the beginning of the film. His loyalty gets the better of him though and he accepts his duty — he wants to get on with the mission, get in there and get again out as quickly as possible.”

On filming in India:

India is definitely the best location we’ve filmed. It’s an extraordinary place, magical. I’ve filmed all over the world but I’ve never experienced anything like this before — the people, the scenery, the animals and architecture. We filmed Sharpe’s Challenge at huge fortresses set into hillsides, amazing palaces in the midst of squalor and poverty, in the desert surrounded by mountains. I’ve found it all fascinating. And the Indian people have been so helpful in every way. They are so positive and optimistic with their outlook on life. They’ve really got something going for them, some sort of spirituality, a set of beliefs that enables them to be so affable and cheerful.”

On doing his own stunts:

“There’s nothing in the film I haven’t done myself and I think it suits the character. I wouldn’t want people to think I didn’t actually do them — that’s not very Richard Sharpe. Most of the stunts aren’t dangerous, one or two potentially could be but I love all that running around, duelling and scrapping. I also love to ride horses. I hadn’t really ridden for a long time. In Lord of the Rings I did a bit of riding, but mostly just plodding onto set. I hadn’t cantered or galloped for about eight years. I went to a farm for some practice and thought I’d fall off and be crap but it is just like riding a bike, as everyone says. I remembered where all the gears were — and the brakes! It felt comfortable which I was really relieved about as I had a lot of riding to do in this film. Mind you, we had polo ponies to ride in Sharpe’s Challenge, they are well bred and very responsive. You had to do very little to get them to do anything and they are gorgeous looking creatures.”


On her character, Madhuvanthi:

“I had never seen Sharpe, but I had so much fun playing Madhuvanthi. She’s such a juicy character. She's the girl everybody wants to play! She’s sexy, capricious and razor sharp. Sensual but Machiavellian. Everyone sees her as ambitious, but I think she is more interested in her own survival. Madhuvanthi was probably a girl who was sold into the royal concubine when she was 12 or 13. Here she was trapped in the harem of this kingdom, she is not of royal blood, she's basically a glorified prostitute and she had to use whatever means to look after herself. The only way she could do this was to gain the king’s favour, so she was his property and no one else could touch her. As Regent she is fighting to keep her kingdom from being conquered by a foreign power. When I got the role, I went to research the character and discovered that it wasn’t so rare, even in this patriarchal society, for a woman to rule as supreme leader of certain kingdoms. I learned about four or five such women who were either wives, consorts or concubines who became rulers and held out against the British.”

On shooting in India:

“I am from the south of India. I was born in Delhi, my family is Keralan and I was bought up in Madras and Manhattan. I wasn't familiar with Rajasthan before I went here to film. It was just as exotic for me as the rest of the British cast and crew. It is very different from the south, even the landscapes. Where we filmed around Jaipur and Jodhpur it is very brown and red, a desert area, whereas south India is very lush and green and tropical.”

On roles she would like to play:

“I’d love to play a female version of Sharpe. I have often thought how great it would be to have a series about a group of female Indian bandits. We would be like Asterix holding out against the Romans but in this case against the British. A gang led by a sexy woman on horseback, like the Lara Croft of India. But I'd also like to play a lawyer, a doctor or even a grocery check out girl — a regular, every day heroine. It's nice to dress up and say wonderfully dramatic lines but I'd relish a role where I could wear sneakers!”