Horatio Hornblower

DVD Review: Horatio Hornblower – The Wrong War

Written by C.S. Forester and Chris Ould
Directed by Andrew Grieve

The title of this piece stems from a poorly conceived expedition into France in which British troops aid Royalists in an attempt to put a fast end to the war with the French Republicans. It’s also known in some circles as The Frogs and the Lobsters.

Ioan Gruffudd portrays Horatio Hornblower, a young Lieutenant in the British Navy. In the original C.S. Forester novels, his career in the British Navy is followed for much longer than in the series of tele-flms produced for A&E and British television.

The war with France is at an impasse. The Royalists who have taken refuge in England are trying to force a return of the monarchy. Captain Pellew (portrayed by Robert Lindsay) of the British Navy is ordered to aid the leader of the Royalists forces in exile, General Cherette (portrayed by Peter Vaughn) in his attempts to land in France, bring together and army, and put King Louis back on his throne. It is hoped that this will put a fast end to the war.

It is an ill-fated expedition, as the Royalist forces are nothing more than the remnants of a defeated army, and the orders might have fallen into the enemy’s hands. However, orders are orders and they must be followed.

When Pellew conveys these orders to his Officers aboard the British frigate, Indefatigable, they seem to have the same hesitation as he exhibited.

Also on board are a regiment of British troops, led by a haughty British Lord who looks down his nose at most of the crew of the Indefatigable. Add to this the natural conflict between British and French troops (even though they are supposed to be on the same side), and you have a situation that seems completely illogical from the start.

The depiction of what was like for those in France at the time is conveyed remarkably well. As the Marquis is being conveyed back to the town he once ruled, he is upset over the condition of his home – paintings torn out of their frames, books used in as props for tables. However, the people are not living high off the hog as he was in the days before. They are using these items as fuel.

The actions of the Royalist forces do nothing to endear the people to them. Far from them rising up with the returning Marquis to depose the Republican government, the people of the town are bullied into submission out of fear. They will not rise and fight for the Royalists, and because they do not have any loyalty, they will take the first opportunity to rise up against them, rather than with them. Even as the Republican Army is keeping the British and Royalist forces pinned at a bridge, the Marquis is intent on beheading those he deems traitorous.

Even the British Lord displays more compassion toward his men than the Marquis. He is cordial and respectful to Horatio, and even admires him to a certain degree. Throughout the story, his respect increases as he realizes that even though he has not had the benefit of a formal education, he is quite intelligent.

In this chapter, Horatio gets the first hint of romance that there has been in the four original tele-films, as he is charmed by a young French girl, Mariette, who has been teaching the children of the Marquis’ village.

Although the father-son-like relationship between Captain Pellew and Lieutenant Hornblower has been hinted at before, here it is depicted with little room for doubt. Pellew’s discomfort at sending the young Lieutenant into such a dangerous situation is evident, as well as his fondness for the young man. It is noticeable by all around them, and he does lament how much he would miss Horatio should something happen to him. When Horatio does return to his ship, the conversation between the two men is so well-acted I felt as if I were intruding on a very private moment.

At times, I felt as if this was a bit out-of-character for a nobleman of this time period. However, Lindsay does a tremendous job in the role and easily convinced me that the Captain’s paternal feelings towards the young Lieutenant were both genuine and perfectly normal.

It is also the story of friendship, as Hoatio’s devotion to his crewmates comes full-circle. Just as he has aided acting-Lieutenant Kennedy in the past, here Kennedy saves his life from the French Republicans. It is a terrific bond of friendship – and one that to really be appreciated, the other tele-films in the series should be viewed first, although each of them do stand on their own very well.

The cinematography is once again beautiful, rivaling anything I’ve seen on the large screen in quite some time. These are the type of DVDs that make me long for a big-screen television. From the ships on the ocean to the battlefields in France, every shot seems framed to perfection.

This disc contains a documentary on England’s Royal Warships as bonus material. Prince Edward narrates the piece, and it’s a fascinating documentary. Seeing what the feared British Navy of 200 years ago was like, as well as the “recruiting efforts” used to build a Navy large enough to defeat Napoleon is quite interesting. There is also information about the current British Navy as well.

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