Toby Stephens is just pleased his character, General William Dodd, is a swordsman and not a dancer. "I love all that swashbuckling stuff. I've done quite a lot of fight scenes in my time and I really enjoy them. As with dancing, sword fights are all about choreography. The irony is, I can do a complicated fight scene but I can't dance to save my life!
"Logically I should be able to do both but I suppose I'm just not as interested, whereas if you put a sword in my hand I know what I'm doing. Dramatically, in both theatre and film, it is so important, as important in some instances as dialogue. So it is worthwhile working hard at it because when it works well it looks amazing. I grew up watching those old movies like the Three Musketeers and even the old Errol Flynn movies where you have these wonderful sword flights up and down stairs. In reality sword fights were brutal, horrible and only lasted seconds but we have stylised them for television."
Toby is no stranger to elaborate fight scenes having played Bond baddie Gustav Graves in Die Another Day. But he says: "It's all about making these characters as different as possible. We see Dodd and Sharpe meet as younger men at the start of the film so we know the history to their relationship. I think the great thing about Dodd is that he has a sort of charm, an appeal. He's not just this horrible vicious man, he has a dry humour."
Toby was drawn to the character from the first reading of the script. "It has everything that is required for Sharpe – a bit of melodrama, romance, fighting, but it is couched in well-researched history and I was impressed by the script because yes it is camp in parts but the history behind it is correct which I liked.
"The fact is British soldiers were frustrated. They were good soldiers but there were getting nowhere, whereas if you had money you could buy promotion. So many of them decided to go over to the other side, to fight for one prince or another, train up his army to fight against the East India Company and make ten times the money, get the women and live a wonderful life. There are many examples of soldiers doing this and even taking up a new religion, becoming Hindus or Muslims."
Describing his character Toby says: "He is ambitious and he has an axe to grind. He's fairly psychotic anyway but I think he feels very bitter about the way he has been treated by the British army. I think Dodd was a very good soldier who was kept in his place. He didn't have money and therefore couldn't get into the British Army so he ended up in the East India Company and even they managed to keep him down. What's great about playing a historically correct character like this is you can understand where they are coming from. You don't just play psychotic; you can see what made him like that and portray a complex personality."
This wasn't the first time Toby had filmed in India. Last year he made the movie The Rising. It was wonderful to go back," he says. "The great thing about playing the baddie is you get more time off because they want to keep you in the background more. So whereas on my last visit to India I saw very little of the country, this time I travelled a lot.”