Horatio Hornblower

DVD Review – Horatio Hornblower: The Fire Ships

Written by C.S. Forester and Mike Cullen
Directed by Andrew Grieve

If you haven’t yet had the pleasure of viewing the wonderful A&E miniseries Horatio Hornblower, you are missing out on a real treat.

The miniseries is based on the novels by C.S. Forester. It tells the tale of a young orphan who rises in rank in the British Navy. In this tale, we find Horatio on the frigate Indefatigable under Captain Pellew. They are soon confronted with Spain switching sides to the French and attacks on the British supply ships. With the crew on half-rations, Horatio must also study for the upcoming Lieutenant promotional exams.

In order to secure more supplies, the Indefatgable travels to Iran with a member of the diplomatic corps. The small shore party is exposed to The Black Plague, forcing them to endure a three-week quarantine aboard another ship. Horatio is given command of that vessel.

The title, The Fire Ships refers to the practice of setting a ship on fire and sending it off into another ship, or area where there are several ships in an attempt to destroy them. We see two fire ships in action during this story as Horatio proves that the true test of a sailor is not before an examination board, but at sea.

Ioan Gruffudd portrays Horatio. Gruffudd is so believable as the character, I have had trouble viewing him in other roles since then. He conveys the anxiety of the situation as he commands the men beneath him. Horatio is a human being who sees his men as individuals and truly takes it to heart when one dies or has problems. The stress on his face during the examinations is believable as well. It honestly felt as if I was just glancing in on a bit of this man’s life.

Likewise, Robert Lindsay as Captain Pellew was a great piece of casting. He portrays the Captain strong, often seeming as if he shows no feeling to the crew. Yet the feeling is there and shows through, even when he must take a hard stance to keep his men in line.

Since this is a period piece, the costuming is exception. I can’t imagine having to wear such heavy clothes all the time, especially while standing in the hot sun. Everything appears authentic, from the differences in dress according to rank, to the diplomat’s subtle changes in dress as the story goes on.

The score which accompanies this episode is also terrific. This is a nice treat for what originally was a made-for-TV miniseries. Very few shows have scores which accompany the story as well as this one does, conveying the feeling of what is going on in the scenes at the time.

Likewise, the cinematography is beautiful as we see the men in the ship draped across the background of an expansive ocean, a small Iranian port, and the port of Gibraltar. Watching the fires glow on the faces of the men in the evening, as well as the times when the sea is lit only by moonlight, are incredible moments.

I cannot find anything wrong with this DVD and have enjoyed it numerous times. The only bonuses on this disc is an explanation of some of the nautical terms used by the sailors. I found this to be interesting, but you don’t need to know them to follow the story.

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