Director: Andrew Grieve
Cast: Ioan Gruffudd, Robert Lindsay, Dorian Healy, Paul Copley, Sean Gilder, Jamie Bamber
Synopsis: This is the first in a series of television movies based around the character Horatio Hornblower, as created in the novels by C.S. Forester. In this episode we meet Hornblower on his first tour of duty in His Majesty’s navy as midshipman. After he comes aboard his ship, he learns the reality of service in the fleet prior to the commencement of war with France following the Revolution.
A review by Film Nerd.
For me, this film began an obsession. I subsequently fell in love with this period of history, watched all the remaining films as they were released, devoured all of Forester’s novels on the character, watched the Gregory Peck movie, and it culminated in me not only visiting Nelson’s ship the H.M.S. Victory, but also to build a model of the same ship (interminably near completion!!)
At these early stages as midshipman, the lowest officer’s rank, we quickly learn the hardships of the service. Things do not start well for young Hornblower (Gruffudd). At 17, he is considered by some to be too old to be starting in the service, given many of his companions have been learning since the age of 12. To compound issues, he distinguishes himself as the midshipman who was sick at Spithead. In plain English, he was ill before the ship even set sail. He is also cruelly victimised by the senior midshipman onboard, a Mr. Jack Simpson (Healy). In short, Hornblower has signed up for a living hell.
He shows he does have some degree of intelligence and creativity, and upon outbreak of war with France, he is transferred to the H.M.S. Indefatigable, under the command of Captain Sir Edward Pellew (Lindsay). A stern but fair captain, he with time recognises some talent in this fledgling officer and fosters it. However Hornblower’s hardships continue. He has a disrespectful unit to run, including characters who are to be series regulars, Matthews and Styles (Copley and Gilder respectively). And even this victory with the men does not prevent a shadow from Hornblower’s past rising.
This is a taster of what becomes a fascinating series. Given the nature of the period, it is a predominantly male cast, which may deter some female viewers. Gruffudd’s portrayal of Hornblower has the potential to draw a female crowd however, in a way that Russel Crowe in Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World proved unable too. Gruffudd receives top billing with Lindsay, who performs an admirable Pellew. He walks that fine line between gruff disciplinarian yet inspiring leader with great skill and confidence. The film also features a young Jamie Bamber, as Hornblower’s fellow midshipman Archie Kennedy, another series regular, who went on to bigger things, later appearing as Lee “Apollo” Adama in the reimagined series of Battlestar Galactica.
If you are interested in the series, there is no better place to start then the beginning. If you do so, yet do not enjoy it, feel free to ignore my reviews of future episodes in the series. If you are a fan though, I look forward to having my faithful readers accompany me on a fantastic voyage.
4 stars (out of a possible 5)
Horatio Hornblower: The Even Chance on IMDB
Horatio Hornblower: The Even Chance on Rotten Tomatoes