Horatio Hornblower

Horatio Hornblower The Duel: This Is Not A Commercial For The British Navy

Written by C.S. Forester and Russell Lewis
Directed by Andrew Grieve

Horatio Hornblower: The Duel is the first of a series of four specials that were aired on the A & E Network last year. A four-hour two-part sequel was aired about a month ago, and there are plans to continue the stories.

These stories are adapted from the novels by C.S. Forester. After having my interest piqued with the films, I plan on purchasing the books to read the original novels, as I understand that there are some differences in them. This film was not based on a whole novel, but rather a small part of just one of the novels.

That said, there are not words that can do these pictures justice. It is 100 minutes of compelling, captivating storytelling.

Horatio Hornblower is a 17 year old midshipman in the British Navy in 1793 – just prior to England and France declaring war during the French Revolution. He is initially assigned to the ship Justinian where he encounters a sadistic Senior Midshipman named Simpson who bullies and terrorizes his fellow midshipmen. He finds out their weaknesses (Horatio’s is that he is afraid of heights) and uses it against them. Horatio is the first to stand up to him by challenging him to a duel after Simpson accuses him of cheating at cards. One of the other Midshipmen, Clayton deliberately takes Horatio’s place and ends up dying without slaying the evil Simpson.

Horatio and several other of the crew are then transferred to the Indefatigable, a frigate under the command of Captain Pellew, after the start of the war. They end up encountering Simpson again as the picture reaches a climactic conclusion.

The story pulls no punches depicting what life was like in the British Navy. It is not romanticized as was done with many films. Horrible conditions prevail, from rat-infested ships to the crew conditions to the treatment received at the hands of senior officers.

Still, the picture is a beautiful one to watch. The music accompanying the picture is perfectly times and adds much to the picture. The costumes are well-done and succeed in taking me back to that time in history. The cinematography was absolutely beautiful. I took note of the way the light would cast the shadows on Ioan Gruffudd’s face while he was in the sunlight on deck.

Truth is, Gruffudd makes this movie. He is an incredible actor as well as being easy on the eyes. This part seems to have been written just for him and after having viewed six of the Horatio Hornblower films, I cannot imagine anyone else in this role. He does not appear to be seventeen at the beginning of this picture as he is supposed to be, but I can forgive the inaccuracy.

It is very obvious the producers of this movie took great pains to make this as historically accurate as possible. One thing that was brought up on the Internet when they talked about this film was the historical inaccuracy in regard to the cannon recoil. This was corrected in the more recent pictures.

If there is one major drawback to this film it is the violence. However, it is not the least bit gratuitous. The violence is there because this is a film about a time that was quite violent; it is not there just for the sake of being there or trying to “jazz up” the film a bit more. I have less qualms about my kids watching this than I would have a lot of other movies.

It is hard to believe that this was a television movie. In my opinion, it would have held up in theaters. I’m glad they’re continuing the series and I hope they will release them all on DVD. The digital picture is crisp and the soundtrack coming through the stereo is as good as many DVDs of movies released theatrically.

Next DVD in the series:

7 replies »

  1. Interestingly, C.S, Forester’s Horatio Hornblower (and, to a lesser degree, Alexander the Great) influenced the characterization of a certain Starfleet captain named James Tiberius Kirk. Gene Roddenberry was a Hornblower fan, and because as a captain in the Age of Sail he had to act independently from the Admiralty (because communications from ship to shore and vice versa took weeks, even MONTHS), Forester’s hero had to be a seaman, a warrior, and a diplomat – all at the same time.

    Interestingly, the film that has the most Hornblower influence in Star Trek is Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Nicholas Meyer (the most literary-minded director to tackle Trek) decided to make Starfleet more Navy-like, so he asked for more military-looking uniforms (my favorite ones), ship’s bells, and even some Navy protocol, such as the oft-heard “Admiral on the bridge!” advisory.

  2. Yes, I can see that. The Hornblower films were quite good – I wish they’d done more of them. In Forester’s books he does rise to be an Admiral. I read most of them after watching the series. It was TNG where they sort of tied into Hornblower, though, with Worf’s promotion.

    • As far as depicting Hornblower-era trappings, yes. The holodeck sim of the 18th Century Enterprise (or is it 19th Century?) is the first direct allusion to Forester.

      Behind the scenes, though, William Shatner is on record saying that Roddenberry told him to play Kirk as a 23rd Century version of Horatio Hornblower. The reasoning was that the USS Enterprise is exploring the galaxy when lots of it is still unexplored, and Kirk is often long ways away from being able to contact Starfleet.

      • Yeah, but I really don’t think Shatner pulled that off. It might have been the idea, but it bore little resemblance to the character in the books.

  3. That’s usually the case in television and movies. The writer can say, “I’d like for X to be a little like Y,” but then the director and actors decide to interpret things…differently.

    The idea, as I understand it, wasn’t to make Kirk exactly like Forester’s Hornblower; as Shatner himself has said, Kirk has to give the semblance of being the “good ol’ Captain Kirk” guy that everyone looks to as a friend, but that’s a facade to hide the loneliness of command that men who command ships that sail (or warp) in harm’s way have to feel. I know that Hornblower wasn’t as “pally” as Kirk is in Star Trek (in that sense, Picard is more Hornblower-ish), but he felt the deaths of the crew under his command very deeply, yet had to be always in control, always ready to make life-or-death decisions. I think that’s what Roddenberry was aiming for, anyway.

    • Yes, I would agree that Picard is more like Hornblower than Kirk. Kirk was much more the rule-breaker where Hornblower was a stickler for trying to do things by the book, even when the situation was stacked against him. That is especially true in this story in the beginning.

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