Back at the Sharpe end
SEAN Bean returns this weekend to fight another day in the heat and dust of 19th Century India.
But will this be the last we see of Richard Sharpe, a homeward-bound hero on the verge of another epic adventure?
After a gap of eight years, Sharpe, played by Sean, returned in 2006 for two films which attracted an audience of over seven million viewers.
Sharpe's Peril (ITV1, Sunday, 9pm) continues where they left off. Sharpe and his friend Sgt Patrick Harper (Daragh O'Malley) are on their way to Calcutta when they happen upon an East India Company train. Filmed entirely on location in India, the new two-part story finds Sharpe in turmoil with his fighting career coming to an end.
"Sharpe is a man who has gone through 25 years of a military career. He has seen a lot - some good and some horrific things," explains Sean, who has played the character in 15 previous films.
"My intention was that he was portrayed with meaning and thoughtfulness, and a sense of melancholy about the character. A man who wasn't as rash, bold or ambitious as he was before.
"War is waged by governments and I think Sharpe has become disillusioned - he's done his bit and just wants to get home. There's a more thoughtful side to Sharpe, he thinks about his family and how he's going to live the rest of his life, hopefully, without the constant turmoil the life of a solider brings."
Sean is proud both of the character and the new film. "We've achieved something that is rarely done on television these days, a period drama filled with action, with everything from the fights to the drama and all the costumes.
"I think it was ambitious, and that's what people like to see. I think people want to see this kind of thing without having to go to see a feature film.
"The great thing about this was taking a whole cast and crew to film in India in 120 degree heat. It's a different pace of life you get there and it's such a change from the fast pace of, say, London or America. You've just got to accept that it's a slower way of life and once you do it's wonderful. There is a language barrier and it does have a different culture but I could film there every year."
He adds: "Sharpe is not in the strictest sense a truly accurate historic character but the films touch upon moments in history that did happen."
Former Spooks star Raza Jaffrey plays Lance Corporal Naik Singh. "Playing Zaf in Spooks was great and people really reacted to him in a good way," says Raza.
"But my character in Sharpe is a real hero of the piece. He's one of the last men standing, desperate to fulfil the dying wishes of his officer. It's the first period drama I've done for television so I'm really hoping to do more."
It's not the first time Raza has worked in India. "I recorded part of the Bombay Dreams soundtrack in Madras. It was bizarre because my grandfather was actually a lighthouse engineer in Madras.
"Normally I would visit the big cities in India such as Mumbai or Madras but filming Sharpe meant we saw places you would never normally see as a tourist. We filmed in a dilapidated palace. And the small village communities we filmed in around Orcha, where they haven't seen rain for years, you would never know they existed."
Sean still does his own stunts, from galloping along mountain tracks to being blown up. He explains: "The director says, `Stand here', and I'm thinking, `Hang on, there's some Semtex about to go off'. It's not even tested, you don't rehearse it, and it just goes bang.
"We've always been like that on Sharpe, just chuck ourselves in. And the next thing you know there's guns going off, carriages and horses flying everywhere and you finish the scene and think, `That wasn't really acting, that was real terror'."