10 of the finest Sean Bean screen roles

Top 10 Andrew Blair 30 May 2014 - 08:06

Andrew counts down some of the best roles of Sean Bean's career, from the ones you'll know to the ones you probably won't...

Sean Bean.

Love him, fear him, smell him: the man breathes fire. And acting.

But what is Sean Bean? Well, adhering to a skeptical epistemology, we simply don't know, but for the purposes of this article he's the bloke who played Errol Partridge in Equilibrium, still to this day his defining role in Equilibrium.

While everyone at Den of Geek loves Equilibrium slightly more than they love each other, Sean Bean is only in it but for a moment. Unfortunately he mistakenly believes that holding up a book in front of his face will stop a bullet, when all he had to do to stop Christian Bale from shooting him was impersonate a puppy. Really, it's hard to argue that the film wouldn't be considerably improved by Sean Bean impersonating a puppy in the background throughout, and this is true of all films.

Everyone knows, though, that Sean Bean dies. What people don't know is that Sean Bean is using his screen deaths in much the same way that an Emperor takes tiny quantities of arsenic, hoping to build up an immunity and thus live forever.

Of course, he'll also live forever in the way they mean it after the awards ceremony's 'Those We Lost This Year' montage: through his work. Here are some of his best screen roles. As ever with these things, feel free to get needlessly angry that someone has a different opinion to yours, as if either of our thoughts matter in any actual way.

10. The Bill

Narrowly edging genre classic When Saturday Comes from the top ten (assuming said genre is 'Films involving Sheffield United that aren't brilliant'), way back in 1984 before this humblebragging scribe was even born, Sean Bean was appearing as a moving image on our screens in the new police drama that was taking the country by storm. Bean played Horace Clark, an unrepentantly violent young man (possibly reacting against being called 'Horace' but not being from the 1940s) and the first of many screen villains.

Incidentally, does anyone else remember two actors from The Bill appearing on Live and Kicking? And yet, they never had anyone from Taggart on Fully Booked. Scandalous.

9. Caravaggio

Derek Jarman's 1986 film isn't for everyone, but it's a testament to something many have forgotten about Sean Bean: he spent two years with the Royal Shakespeare Company and was pretty damn fearless in the roles he took. So, here, in his first large screen role, we have enough fighting, posing in loincloths, and intense love triangles to make any young actor think twice.

Most importantly, though, it's the first time Sean Bean dies on screen, though the last time he dies on screen while someone talks about dolphins in the voiceover.

8. The Storyteller: The True Bride

In which Sean Bean plays gardener who falls in love with a princess (Jane Horrocks) in a story adapted from a German fairy tale by Anthony Minghella, narrated by John Hurt, and with creatures by the Jim Henson workshop. It's basically HBO doing Jackanory.

7. Lady Chatterley's Lover

In which Sean Bean plays a gardener who pursues an illicit bonking* session with Lady Constance Chatterley (Joely Richardson) in this 1993 BBC adaptation of D.H. Lawrence's filthy and despicable tome, directed by Ken Russell.

Fans of seeing all of the outside of Sean Bean were well served in his early career. Lady Chatterley has the advantage, however, of seeing Bean running naked through the forest while saying 'HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH' in a way that isn't totally sinister.

* 'Bonking' is a term for sexual intercourse used only in the Nineties that appears to derive from the notion of two objects colliding, rather than the comedy sound effect so beloved of programmes such as Bodger and Badger, Jigsaw, and Jonathan Meades' tvSSFBM EHKL.

6. GoldenEye

Bean played Alec Trevelyan, who in turn played Bond by faking his own death and forming a big ol' crime syndicate. Basically no one would have minded if Trevelyan had won.

5. The Accused – Tracie's Story

Remember that thing about Sean Bean being fearless? If not, please consult a doctor. He has a reputation – not just for death – but for villainy, action films, and casting him as a nobleman is shorthand for 'dignified but conflicted'. A number of films that show his range slip under the radar, though this one certainly got noticed.

Bean plays Simon Gaskell, a bored English teacher by day, by night the confident and brash Tracie Tremarco. Again, a murderous triangle of relationships ensues. Much like lifting a sofa up to a fourth floor flat, this is gripping, moving, and breathtaking stuff.

4. Red Riding

A show so gritty the council watch it when the weather gets cold, Red Riding was adapted from the David Peace novels Nineteen Seventy-Four, Nineteen Eighty and Nineteen Eighty-Three. Corruption and crime in period Yorkshire made for some staggering television, with a cast so good it was bordering on cheating.

Bean plays John Dawson, a businessman whose activities kickstart the trilogy in 1974, in a role that saw him pitted against Andrew Garfield's reporter. Den of Geek scribe and all-round person Duncan Bowles' paean to Baean sees our hero transcribing Sean's words:

'It was so bleak and dark that we kind of laughed hysterically in the bar afterwards to release that tension'.

There's probably a really dark edit of Spider-man to be made by splicing in footage from Red Riding. Red Riding is nowhere near being a 12A.

3. Game Of Thrones

SPOILER WARNING: Sean Bean's character gets stabbed in the leg at one point but Eddard Stark is a man driven by a strong moral code to do what's right. Then he gets his head cut off, which complicates the ensuing war a great deal. Fortunately his family are all perfectly safe.

Essentially, Ned Stark is the tonal marker for Game Of Thrones: a (relatively) good and honourable man attempts to do the right thing, played by Sean Bean. Obviously he has to die.

Incidentally, 'Eddard Stark' is an anagram of 'Add rad treks', which brings us nicely onto...

2. Lord Of The Rings

It can't go without saying that Sean Bean's beard has done sterling work in the fantasy genre. Within that beard contains the means to convey flawed nobility. Not like a bad ass, but like a morally ambiguous ass. This is the more dramatically satisfying anal conglomeration, obvs.

It also can't go without saying that Boromir is hardcore, having done frankly ludicrous work in defending Gondor from the forces of Mordor, getting in some 300 style defensive measures with only three other soldiers for company, and making his way to the Council of Elrond despite losing his horse.

In Doctor Who terms – really, the best way to make any analogy – Boromir is Jon Pertwee to Aragorn's Tom Baker. Sure, loads of folk love the Pertwee, but everyone remembers Tom Baker.

1. Sharpe

Richard Sharpe is described in Bernard Cornwell's books as being a six foot tall Londoner with long black hair. Sean Bean is five foot ten, has blond hair and is from Sheffield. Cast after Paul McGann had to drop out (having broken his leg while filming), Bean's impact in the role was such that Cornwell retconned Sharpe's backstory to include time in Yorkshire.

Sharpe was so rugged you could put him in front of a fireplace and wrestle on him. He was so earthy you could grow delicious cress (too tempting even for Jesus) on him. He was a gruff buff rufty tufty heftily wefted slab of ruggedly huggable man-meat, and if you didn't have a crush on him by the end of an episode, ITV would send a man round to confiscate your eyes.

Bad Blood, starring the mighty Sean Bean, is available on DVD now.

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Oh come on, _Ronin_ has got to be in there.

I'm just pleased you managed to find a few screen roles where he survived to the end. Some good choices in this list.

SPOILER ALERT!!!!!!

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Still here? I thought it was pretty funny how in the second Silent Hill they teased him dying in a dream sequence. It's like even in a movie where the guy doesn't die, he gets an on screen death. Always wonder if they did it on purpose.

He was the best thing about Troy, love sean bean

And, shockingly, "Sharpe" is almost the only series/movie/whatever in which Sean Bean *doesn't* die!

I've watched "Sharpe's Rifles" repeatedly, but I can't bear to rewatch "Sharpe's Waterloo" - just too depressing!

It was a good ep though, but yeh, unnecessary to kill off that many people :(

There was a BBC TV play in the late 80s where he played an English Civil War re enactor. Very well observed but cannot remember what it was called.

One does not simply pick from Beans oeuvre....

Even HE could not save Troy, I was devastated. For heaven's sake, Brian Cox, Peter O'Toole, and Sean Bean TOGETHER could not save it from the flaccid Brad Pitt. Sad. Painfully Sad.
I am so grateful that Sean is getting better and more well-lit roles for himself!! YAY!! GO BABY!! KINCHYLE~~~!!!

no When Saturday Comes? or Ronin?

I loved the Sharpe movies growing up, until I read the original Cornwall books. The movies are still good except that the budget is clearly shown to be lacking. The books involve battles that have thousands of men fighting, the movies have no more than a dozen guys on screen at any one time, possibly with a corner of a fortress made out of cardboard. I have for years wanted to see a remake of the movies, now that the technology exists to CGI in whole armies. My pick for Sharpe would probably be Richard Armitage. Oh and another great thing about the movies that were made? Pete Postlethwaite as Sgt Obediah Hakeswill. Another actor that diverged pretty radically from his description on the page, but who was so damn good at playing him that it didn't matter a bit.

Did anyone else read the title of this article "Seen Been Screen Roles"?

"My Kingdom for a Horse" - Sean played a re-enactor of the infantry, who had to die in every battle. So his only wish was that he would be promoted to the mounted troups, hence the wish for a horse, and no more deaths each weekend. Loved his glasses ;)

Awesome choices, and thanks for unearthing some of the almost forgotten (of course not by Sean's fans) early works!
I do love "Don't say a Word", especially knowing that in one of his most pivotal scenes Sean carries a Boromir Bobble-head figure, which was presented to him right before he was called back on set, in his trouser pocket ...
And his very brief but memorable appearance in an episode of "The Vicar of Dibley", where he almost ruins the Vicar's wedding by simply looking his most gorgeous while standing in the church's doorway :D

You even got a TMWRNJ cress reference in there. Good work.

What, no "Patriot Games"?

Such a great under-appreciated character actor.

"Not bad! Not bad! Got the swag kept the money! Well done!" ...or something of that nature. Yes, I second Ronin. And also would like to give a shout out to Patriot Games. My personal introduction to Sean Bean - "Lost her spleen, yeah?" ...or something of that nature as well.

"Lost her spleen, yeah?"...I said that elsewhere in the comment thread...and I'm saying it again.

Thought he was great in 'The Field' along with the mighty Richard Harris

There's a video on YouTube called 'Sharpe likes to swear'. It's the best seven and a half minutes of your life.

My abiding memory of that film is De Niro being incapable of pronouncing 'Hereford' correctly and Sean didn't dare correct him.

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