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

Trailer [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rEEUDLr9uUw]

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

Trailer unavailable


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.

Horatio Hornblower: The Even Chance – A Review by Film Nerd

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

Trailer [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ad-hYMmvctY]