During the 1980s and 1990s, Sharpe was a cultural phenomenon. Originally created by Bernard Cornwell in 1981, Sharpe was in both print and on screen, It starred Sean Bean and was perhaps the TV series that would make him a household name.
Sharpe's Eagle was written by Bernard Cornwell. It was directed by Tom Clegg. The plot is In 1809, Sir Arthur Wellesley, commander of the British forces in the Iberian Peninsula, prepares to invade French-controlled Spain. He orders Lieutenant Richard Sharpe and his band of "chosen men" to accompany the arrogantly incompetent, newly arrived Sir Henry Simmerson and his South Essex Regiment on a small, but significant mission to destroy a bridge vital to French troop movements. Simmerson, his nephew Lieutenant Gibbons (Neil Dudgeon) and Lieutenant Berry (Daniel Craig) despise Sharpe for his low birth. However, Major Lennox (David Ashton), who knew Sharpe from their days in India, and American-born Captain Leroy (Gavan O'Herlihy) appreciate his military skill and sense of honour.
The bridge is taken without resistance and Sharpe's men start to place explosives. When Simmerson spots a small French patrol on the other side of the river, he orders Lennox to take a small detachment and drive them off. Lennox strenuously objects, but obeys the command. His fears are realised when a hidden French cavalry unit surprises and overruns the British instead; Lennox is fatally wounded and the King's colours are lost. Sharpe and his men go to the rescue, while Simmerson panics and orders the bridge to be blown up, even though some of his men are still on the other side. Afterwards, the dying Lennox asks Sharpe for a French Imperial Eagle to wash away the shame of losing the colours.
Wellesley promotes Sharpe to captain for his part in the skirmish, instead of Gibbons (though there is no guarantee that he will be able to keep his new rank). Enraged, Simmerson tells Berry to dispose of Sharpe. Berry deliberately provokes Sharpe by abusing Countess Josefina (Katia Caballero), a woman Sharpe had rescued from Gibbons and taken under his protection. To forestall a duel, Wellesley orders a night patrol to be led by Sharpe and Berry. They run into the French; during the fighting, Berry shoots Sharpe from behind, but is killed by Harper before he can finish the job.
The next day, the Battle of Talavera is fought. Simmerson, seeing a French column approaching his position, flees. Sharpe steadies the South Essex, much improved after the training he provided, and leaves them under the command of Leroy. They succeed in stopping the French attack. At just the right moment, Sharpe and his riflemen attack the wavering French soldiers in the flank, sending them into headlong retreat. Sharpe captures the unit's Eagle, making him famous throughout England and ensuring that he remains a captain.
Afterwards, Sharpe plants the Eagle on Lennox's grave. Simmerson is protected by his influential friends and escapes punishment for his cowardice and incompetence. Meanwhile, Josefina finds a new protector in Captain Leroy.
The TV Movie ran for 100 minutes and was broadcast on ITV. It has since been released on VHS and DVD.