Captain Horatio Hornblower R.N. – A Review by Film Nerd

Director: Raoul Walsh

Cast: Gregory Peck, Virginia Mayo, Robert Beatty, James Robertson Justice, Denis O’Dea

Synopsis: Captain Hornblower, in command of the H.M.S. Lydia, is on a secret mission to provide support for a Spanish rebel, making no contact with land for eight months.   After turning over a captured Spanish ship of the line to the self-styled “El Supremo”, Hornblower is informed Spanish is once again an English ally, and as such he must recapture the recently turned over vessel.   On his trip back to England, he is charged with transporting Lady Barbara Wellesley, sister of the Duke of Wellington, back home, as she attempts to flee the Yellow Fever that is rife in Portugal.


A review by Film Nerd.

Made well before the recent series starring Ioan Gruffudd, this 1951 film has the charm that only films of that era seem to have.   Despite the fact that this is another British icon here played by an American, the simple gravitas of any Peck performance makes this a very small quibble.   The fact is that Peck was a generation defining actor, and his portrayal of Hornblower is absolutely superb.   Despite having many different performance traits to how Gruffudd played the role, there is actually a physical similarity between the two actors, making it very plausible that we are watching the same character after a further 15 years at sea.

As mentioned in my review for “Loyalty” and “Duty”, that feature left off with just enough lead up information to let this film flow somewhat directly on.   Hornblower has been married for that fifteen years, creating another level of tension as he starts to develop feelings for Lady Barbara.   The great man cannot be entirely blamed though…Mayo is absolutely radiant in the role.   Their relationship is one that grows from taciturn acceptance of the situation, to being forced into each others company in such away that they cannot help admire each other as human beings.   Hornblower’s marriage is not the only obstacle though.   Lady Barbara is due to be married herself on her return to England, to Hornblower’s superior, Rear Admiral Leighton (O’Dea).

Though the romance is what many would remember most from the film, it is also intelligent to have a strong focus on action when they are apart.   When the sea battles rage, we have splinters flying everywhere, full masts and spars falling to deck, and Hornblower, always in control and in command.   The effects have dated, absolutely, but they are still very effective.   There is also space in the film to examine how Hornblower interacts with his crew.   Fittingly, the mutual respect between Lt. Bush (Beatty) and his captain are on display.    Even more so, one able seaman is selected to show Hornblower’s respect for all men under his command.    The man selected for this role is Quist (Justice), who is quite bitter against his Captain until Hornblower singled him out for a task, to which he exclaims in wonder “He know’s my name!”

The film may not have the depth or focus on detail that the Gruffudd series had, but what it lacks there it gains in the romanticism of this piece, representing the sea as a fickle mistress, who will treat you right if you understand her.   It is in every respect Peck’s film, amazing given that Erroll Flynn had originally been earmarked for the role.   This is a film from the classic era of Hollywood, and should be enjoyed as such.

4 stars (out of a possible 5)


Captain Horatio Hornblower R.N. on IMDB

Captain Horatio Hornblower R.N. on Rotten Tomatoes


Horatio Hornblower: “Loyalty” and “Duty” – A Review by Film Nerd

Director: Andrew Grieve

Cast: Ioan Gruffudd, Robert Lindsay, Paul McGann, Lorcan Cranitch, Julia Sawalha, Tony Haygarth, Paul Copley, Sean Gilder, Greg Wise, Christian Coulson, Ron Cook, Jonathan Coy

Synopsis: Hornblower is languishing on a Lieutenant’s half-pay during peace with France, the peace having been declared before his promotion to Commander could be confirmed by the admiralty.   In his cheap lodgings, he has won the heart of his landlady’s daughter.   He come across Lieutenant Bush at this time, just as Admiral Pellew gives Hornblower a secret mission to France, promoting him to Commander in the process.   He takes command of the Hotspur, bringing Bush along as his First Lieutenant.

A review by Film Nerd.

As with the last two-part story, I have opted to review these two television movies together, even though the two-story arc is less well-defined then in the last case.   What connects the two is Hornblower’s relationship with Maria Mason (Julia Sawalha, previously seen in the TV series Press Gang, and as Lydia in the BBC’s definitive Pride and Prejudice miniseries).   He meets her when he is languishing on half-pay, barely able to make his rent.   It is a relationship the defines Hornblower in the next few books of the series, a bond forged more out of obligation than affection.   Sadly, given the demise of the series, the relationship was not explored further than this point.

In showing the fleet during peace time, the success of the franchise is once again apparent in shedding light onto the concerns of officers serving in His Majesty’s navy in this time period.   We soon get back into the real action though, with Hornblower getting a command, much due to the good graces of Admiral Pellew.   The joy of these current stories are getting to delve into Hornblower’s loyalty to both superior and inferior officer’s, as we finally get to also see his relationship with Lieutenant Bush in full bloom.

And yet, I still haven’t even got around to any of the missions Hornblower is sent on here, which is really half the fun.   Suffice it to say that the peace does not last long, and we get action on the high seas galore, with traitor’s in our favourite Commander’s own crew that come back to haunt us, cowardly midshipmen (former young Tom Riddle, Coulson), an uneasy alliance with a French Royalist Major (Wise), and also being stuck right in the middle of major international political intrigue.

This is certainly the series at its peak, with Hornblower finally in command, and perhaps the saddest point for it to end.   It is fortunate we have the Gregory Peck film to follow this up for, even though it is based 15 years after the point here observed, it is just enough of a stepping stone to keep the storyline somewhat continuous.

4.5 stars (out of a possible 5)

Horatio Hornblower: Loyalty on IMDB

Horatio Hornblower: Loyalty on Rotten Tomatoes

Horatio Hornblower: Duty on IMDB

Horatio Hornblower: Duty on Rotten Tomatoes

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