Horatio Hornblower: “Mutiny” and “Retribution” – A Review by Film Nerd

Director: Andrew Grieve

Cast: Ioan Gruffudd, Robert Lindsay, David Warner, Nicholas Jones, Paul McGann, Jamie Bamber, Paul Copley, Sean Gilder

Synopsis: In this two-part story, Hornblower is Third Lieutenant on the H.M.S. Renown, under the command of Captain James Sawyer, a national hero and one of Nelson’s Own.   This is not the good news one would hope though.  It soon becomes evident that Sawyer has paid the price for his heroism, and has gone quite mad, proving a danger to himself, and the ship.   Unfortunately, the ship’s doctor refuses to declare him unfit for command.   As such, and attempt by his lieutenants to take control of the vessel will result in a court martial for mutiny.

A review by FilmNerd.

I have made the decision to review these movies together as they do cover a single story, and it made sense to do it this way rather than to go over repeat ground.   The viewer’s curiosity is immediately ripened, finding Hornblower under lock and key, then receiving a visit from Admiral Pellew.    Their discussion reveals Hornblower is there for mutiny, and Pellew is one of the senior officers presiding over his trial.   From this point on, the story is told in flashback, with intercuts to the present day showing the progress of the trial.   What we observe is quite an unwinnable situation for the officers of the Renown.

Suffice it to say, it is an interesting story.   “Mutiny” covers the events leading up to the Lieutenants taking control of the vessel, showing progressively Sawyer’s state of madness.   The difficulty being that despite his deranged mind, Sawyer can appear calm and reasonable on the surface, an obstacle which could prove disastrous when a court martial would inevitably be held.   “Retribution” proceeds to then cover the story of the actions of the lieutenants in command, as they try to at least fulfil the mission given to the Renown, partially in the hope it will reflect favourably on them at trial.   I will admit the ending sways wildly from the end of the story written by C.S. Forester, and in my mind not in a good way, and this is where the story loses half a star.

Aside from the plot though, these films are an exhibit of stellar acting.   Gruffudd and Lindsay are well established and comfortable in their characters now.   Warner, a veteran of more than one Star Trek appearance is terrifyingly convincing as Sawyer.   Jones is the ineffectual First Lieutenant Buckland, and Bamber is back as Fourth Lieutenant Archie Kennedy, in what is perhaps his finest performance of the series.   Perhaps the most important role to be cast though, was that of Second Lieutenant William Bush, a character that becomes very significant later in the series.   It is a role that requires a taciturn, hard-to-like nature initially, with Sawyer picking him out as a favourite early.   This appearance is slowly dropped however, to reveal he is a man of great integrity, who will always consult his honour and his duty in his actions.   To play this role we have the Eighth Doctor, Paul McGann.    Though I did not know he was Doctor Who when I first saw this, he is an actor of great talent, and suits Bush perfectly.

Aside from my disappointment with the ending, this is otherwise the perfect Hornblower adventure, making the pity greater that only one more two-part story was shot after this.

4.5 stars (out of a possible 5)

Horatio Hornblower: Mutiny on IMDB

Horatio Hornblower: Mutiny on Rotten Tomatoes

Horatio Hornblower: Retribution on IMDB

Horatio Hornblower: Retribution on Rotten Tomatoes

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