Horatio Hornblower: The Frogs and the Lobsters – A Review by Film Nerd

Director: Andrew Grieve

Cast: Ioan Gruffudd, Robert Lindsay, Antony Sher, John Shrapnel, Samuel West, Jamie Bamber, Paul Copley, Sean Gilder, Jonathan Coy, Colin MacLachlan

Synopsis: The Indefatigable is dispensed to transport French Royalist troops (the Frogs of the title) on a mission to hope to inspire the citizens of France to rebel against the new regime.   This action is to be supported by British Army troops (the Lobsters), and Hornblower is lucky enough to be the liaison between the two factions.   This is an episode where we truly learn the mathematics of defeat, however, given that dispatches containing details of this plan have been intercepted by the enemy, yet Captain Pellew is ordered to proceed regardless.

A review by Film Nerd.

This was the last television movie in the original run of Hornblower stories, and it is a fitting end for this stage.   Four more films were subsequently made, divided into two two-part stories.   Unfortunately, that marked the end of the series, the producers deeming it to expensive to make any more.   Fortunately, where that last film ends off fittingly merges well with the Gregory Peck film Captain Horatio Hornblower.

As for this story, it asks more from the cast than previously, with particularly a wide emotional arc required from Gruffudd, and he delivers.   We see the diplomat we are so familiar with from now commissioned Lieutenant Hornblower.   He has to deal with both the Army officers on board led by the initially abrasive, yet eventually clearly fair and level-headed Major Edrington (West), and their French comrade Colonel Moncoutant (Sher), who is much less fair and eventually quite tyrannical.   As such, the audiences observes Hornblower in a state of moral outrage, and with time even despair.

This is not a one horse show though, with Lindsay’s Captain Pellew torn by a duty he has been given which can only end in defeat.   We get an insight into the pressures on a master and commander of one of His Majesty’s vessels, and clearly it is not all smooth sailing.   Credit should also be given to the supporting players.  It is to Sher’s credit that I cannot help but seeth when I see him, and Bamber stats showing some of his eventual Lee “Apollo” Adama as Kennedy starts to become a more efficient Acting Lieutenant.   Finally,Ship’s Master Bowles is given a slightly larger role in this, his last appearance, and he does the surname proud.

Unlike the previous instalment which I bemoaned for pacing issues, and a lot of good elements not adding up, thankfully this film does not suffer the same fate.   There is a lot of action keeping proceedings moving, and as there are many fronts of battle to be observed, the claustrophobia of the prison environment is well behind us.   It is little wonder the series progressed from here, just as it is little wonder Pellew was written into the subsequent stories, despite his presence not being so prominent in the corresponding books.   Quite simply, this made for television movie rocks.

4 stars (out of a possible 5)

Horatio Hornblower: The Frogs and the Lobsters on IMDB

Horatio Hornblower: The Frogs and the Lobsters on Rotten Tomatoes

Trailer unavailable

Horatio Hornblower: The Duchess and the Devil – A Review by Film Nerd

Director: Andrew Grieve

Cast: Ioan Gruffudd, Robert Lindsay, Cherie Lunghi, Christopher Fulford, Jamie Mamber, Jonathan Coy, Paul Copley, Sean Gilder, Colin MacLachlan

Synopsis: Still awaiting the results of his examination for Lieutenant, Acting Lieutenant Hornblower begins this chapter with a daring capture of a French ship.   He is given order to return it to London, while also carrying a passenger, the Duchess of Wharfdale (Lunghi).   Unfortunately, in a thick fog Hornblower inadvertently sails into the centre of the Spanish Fleet, which has now become allied with France.

The franchise continues to move from strength to strength, however this particular episode has never been a favourite of mine.   There is nothing necessarily wrong with what is put on-screen.   As usual, Gruffudd and co put on the usual dazzling performance, the  guest actors add spark and something fresh, and what is observed to occur is very plausible within the context of the series, in short, it manages to do what it attempts to successfully.

And yet, every time I watch this instalment, I can’t help but feel bored.   I guess as well I hate seeing characters I like in defeat, and the vast majority of the time here, we see Hornblower as prisoner to the Spanish.   He is spending his time planning escape, as is his duty, but this is complicated by discovering Archie Kennedy (Bamber), who was his fellow midshipman on the Indy in The Even Chance, is also trapped in the same prison, yet half the man he was.   In addition, he has an insubordinate midshipman (Fulford) who is incapable of grasping the complexity of what Hornblower is trying to achieve.   This is not aided by the fact that the officer leading the Spanish garrison at the prison has permitted Hornblower daily walks with the Duchess, who has as yet not managed transport home from Spain,   So of course upstart midshipman Hunter takes this to mean Hornblower is having too much fun to escape.

Ok, so writing it down like that makes it sound exciting, yet something does just not gel.   The pacing lags at times, but thankfully when action does occur, or major plot twists revealed, it does act somewhat to compensate for these issues.   All in all, this is not a bad Hornblower episode, yet it is far from my favourite as well.

3 stars (out of a possible 5)
Horatio Hornblower: The Duchess and the Devil on IMDB

Horatio Hornblower: The Duchess and the Devil on Rotten Tomatoes

Trailer unavailable

Horatio Hornblower: The Examination for Lieutenant – A Review by Film Nerd

Director: Andrew Grieve

Cast: Ioan Gruffudd, Robert Lindsay, Denis Lawson, Ian McNeice, Andrew Tiernan, Paul Copley, Sean Gilder, Colin MacLachlan

Synopsis: Hornblower is now an acting lieutenant, under the command of Captain Sir Edward Pellew, on H.M.S. Indefatigable.   His examination to become a commissioned lieutenant looms, yet he still has some lessons to learn, such as how to handle the morale of men on prolonged rations, only to have these concerns compounded by the threat of plague.

A review by Film Nerd.

The Hornblower series moves from strength to strength with this instalment, and I am not just biased by the fact that these first four television movies feature the magnificently named character of Master Bowles (MacLachlan).   No, rather we see the growing confidence and talent of young Horatio Hornblower, promoted now to the role of acting lieutenant, not surprising given his exploits as shown previously.

Yet the sea has many more challenges to present both our hero, as well as to us the audience.   We learn further of the hardships of life at sea.   When a vital supply ship is destroyed en route to the “Indy”, the men are forced onto prolonged rations to preserve the ship’s stores.   Hornblower first must learn that at times like these you do not try to restrain the high spirits of the crew, no matter how much their noise may distract from a person’s ability to study.

Which brings me to another major challenge facing Hornblower.   For his commission to be accepted, he must first pass his examination for lieutenant (as in the title above).   To avoid confusion, this episode has also has a separate title overseas, yet I choose not to use this title as it gives away a large chunk of the action of the finale.   Ironically, I have also discovered this was also the case for the chapter I reviewed previously.    Anyway, Hornblower desperately wishes to be ready to receive his commission, however he is continuously distracted.   Of course, it does not help when a diplomatic trade mission comes across the plague, leaving Hornblower in command of a quarantine ship for 3 weeks.

The casting is once again superb.   Gruffudd at this stage is really getting comfortable with the role, and his performance is nothing if not captivating.   Lindsay really own’s the character of Pellew, and encapsulates exactly what one would wish from a leader of men.   The support cast all perform their roles well, yet they do diminish somewhat in the power of this leading pair.

I say of this film what I said when I first saw it many years ago… Love it!   Bring on the next one!!

4 stars (out of a possible 5)

Horatio Hornblower: The Examination for Lieutenant on IMDB

Horatio Hornblower: The Examination for Lieutenant on Rotten Tomatoes

Trailer unavailable.