Richard Sharpe has had to tangle with many unpleasant foes over the course of his long and bloody career, but none have lingered in the memory of his fans as much as the grotesque and bullying Obadiah Hakeswill. A larger-than-life fiend who is just flagrantly evil enough to be fascinating, Hakeswill’s TV incarnation never quite struck home as well as the swaggering, scummy original book version did; I theorised that Pete Postlethwaite was just too classy an actor to go overboard with the gruesome mannerisms and become the evil cartoon character that Hakeswill really is.
A nemesis to Sharpe from his earliest days in the army, Hakeswill is defined by his utter sadism and sociopathy (balanced only by his reverent devotion to his long-dead mother) and a quasi-supernatural ability to cheat death. By a bizarre fluke, Hakeswill survived being hanged and escaped his native England for a life in the army, mirroring Sharpe’s own flight from his criminal past. Like Sharpe, Hakeswill demonstrates an uncanny ability to make it through outrageously dangerous situations (he believes that his apparent immunity to the noose has made him destined to be unkillable). Like Sharpe, he discovers that the British Army is an environment he can thrive in; but while Sharpe eventually takes the opportunity to prove himself a brave, dedicated and gifted soldier, for Hakeswill the army is a playground where he can indulge his appetites for petty tyranny, rape, deceit and general cruelty to the upmost, playing the system of army discipline to his advantage and sucking up to the gullible officer class to secure his position.
He’s just hissable to the extreme, a skulking fiend plotting the most spiteful acts of vengeance against our wronged anti-hero. While Sharpe is no saint, he at least confronts his foes with upright, bluff courage; making the unmanly, brutal yet cowardly Hakeswill the perfect anti-Sharpe.