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 (link): DVD Review – Horatio Hornblower: The Fire Ships