Sharpe's Challenge - Interviews

Last Update: 06 April 2006

The Sword Master: Richard Bonehill

"To be a swordsman in Rajasthan is regarded as a venerated position and I was treated with the greatest courtesy and respect by all I met."

Richard Bonehill is a fighting double, Sword Master and Fight Director who has worked in the film industry for 25 years.
On the afternoon of the 21st December, my flight made its final descent to Heathrow Airport. Quite a shock as I had not seen a single cloud in six weeks. I had been working in Rajasthan as Sword Master on Sharpe’s Challenge. Fans of the original television series filmed between 1993 and 1997 will remember Sharpe’s exciting adventures, and the two new films promise to be more spectacular and certainly more swashbuckling than ever. My job as Sword Master involved choreographing eleven fights and working alongside the Stunt Co-ordinator Gareth Milne in the staging of a number of spectacular battle sequences.
The main two locations in Rajasthan were the awe inspiring Jaigarh Fort in Jaipur and the breathtaking Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur. Their size, complexity and location (both set on top of almost vertical 150 meter high cliffs) makes it no surprise that neither were ever conquered. One giant gateway after another, complete with iron spikes on the gates to stop war elephants pushing them down, lead to successive courtyards which would become impassable killing fields. One cannot imagine any army conquering these magnificent fortifications without modern day air support or nuclear weapons. Their sheer size is overwhelming.
Our ‘fighting teams’ consisted of 10 Russian Stuntmen (veterans of the original series, excellent performers, hard men and hard drinkers!) 20 Indian stuntmen and up to 350 Indian extras. Add to this happy band horses, elephants, camels, goats, pigs, donkeys and some idea of the complexity of the shooting can be imagined.
Days - and also a week of night shoots - were spent in temperatures in the 80s, fighting and dying. It is a great testament to the professionalism to all those involved that over the nine action-packed weeks of shooting no injuries were sustained. Evenings were spent having dinner under the stars, usually by the pool and the one day a week off spent sunbathing and relaxing. One such day I visited the Holy City of Pushka to witness the biggest camel and horse fair in India. A fascinating experience I will never forget, which culminated in watching the sun set over the sacred lake.
To be a swordsman in Rajasthan is regarded as a venerated position and I was treated with the greatest courtesy and respect by all I met. One of my most treasured memories of the trip will be the evening I spent with His Highness The Maharaja of Jaipur as his honoured guest for dinner in his Magnificent Diggi Palace. The Maharaja (Nicco to his friends) had loaned some of his polo ponies to the production and his graciousness and that of his family was overwhelming.
It is impossible in so few words to convey the beauty of such a wonderful country. It is a continent of extremes. Poverty of biblical proportions exists along side extreme wealth. There is great beauty and unspeakable ugliness, but my abiding memory of my trip will be the friendliness and warmth of the Indian people. If you ever get the chance to visit this fascinating continent grab it with both hands, but remember to have all the necessary injections!

Production Notes (click on the links):
Sean Bean is Richard Sharpe
Padma Lakshmi is Madhuvanthi
Toby Stephens is William Dodd
Daragh O’Malley is Patrick Harper
Behind-the-Camera Fact File
The Producer: Malcolm Craddock
The Producer: Muir Sutherland
The Creator: Bernard Cornwell
The Writer: Russell Lewis
The Sword Master: Richard Bonehill


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