Written by T.R. Bowen, Ben Rostul, and C.S. Forester
Directed by Andrew Grieve
Nations need heroes… Heroes make the impossible believable…
This two-disc set opens with Horatio (Ioan Gruffudd) imprisoned in Kingston, Jamaica about to be court-martialed for mutiny. Although presented in different episodes, titled The Mutiny and Retribution on two different discs, the mutiny is not completely resolved until the end of the second disc, making it really a mini-series.
The story of the events which took place leading up to this point is shown through a series of flashbacks during the court-martial. Hornblower is stationed on the Reknown under the command of Captain Sawyer (David Warner). They are dispatched to Santo Domingo where the blacks are in rebellion. Sawyer is not the same type of Captain as Sir Edward Pellew (Robert Lindsay) was, although he has a great reputation as an officer. However, his behavior soon seems quite odd, demonstrating that his mind may not be quite as sound as it used to be. He is paranoid and sees plots against him among the crew.
When his insanity can no longer be denied because his actions have grounded the ship and have the crew as sitting ducks at the hands of the Spaniards, he is removed by the ship’s doctor (David Rintoul) at the behest of three of the ship’s officers. The “acting Captain” Buckland (Nicholas Jones) is not quite up to the job, and while Hornblower, Kennedy (Jamie Bamber of the new Battlestar Galactica), and Bush (Paul McGann of Dr. Who fame) wish to keep to the mission and attack the fort.
Sawyer torments Buckland at every turn with the fact that he is far behind Hornblower in intelligence and vision. He calls him a clown. Buckland is on the outside of the three officers looking in, and it’s hard for him. He tells Bush he sees them as a trio so full of themselves.
During the trial, Buckland snaps and states that it was all Hornblower’s fault. He pushed Captain Sawyer and that led to Sawyer’s insanity. It’s a reaction out of jealousy when he is called out for allowing the ship to fall into the Spanish prisoners’ hands and Hornblower is the one who got it back from them.
His friend Archie Kennedy has been injured, however, along with Bush. Kennedy’s wound is a mortal one. Knowing he is about to die anyway, he takes the stand in the trial and takes the fall for pushing the Captain, an act that never happened.
Although there have been stories about crazy superiors and how underlings have coped with them before in the cinema, here it is done quite well, and credit must be given to the actors involved for that, as well as the writer, T.R. Bowen. Although based on an event in one of C.S. Forrester’s novels, Bowen gives the story a life of its own as the mutiny and court-martial take place.
David Warner is excellent as Captain Sawyer, vacillating from sanity to insanity. What makes this performance stand out is how restrained the performance truly is. Rather than show us Sawyer’s insanity through rants and raves, the character seems to know exactly what he is doing, even as his decisions become more and more questionable. Is it all simply a misunderstanding and he is a military genius whose tactics just seem like lunacy at times, or has he gone over the edge? The slow evolution of the character’s insanity throughout the story makes it all the more compelling. The crew does not immediately rise against him, but begins to question the Captain’s mental health one by one throughout the story.
The fact that there is believable chemistry between the three junior lieutenants; Bush, Hornblower, and Kennedy, also helps a great deal. The actors genuinely seem to get along, and the fact that Kennedy and Hornblower are somewhat suspicious of Bush for so long also rings true. Bamber and McGann both give terrific performances as they face challenge after challenge with the confidence that feels neither phony nor forced.
Gruffudd’s performance is terrific once again. I can’t imagine anyone else in this role, and when I finally get around to seeing Master and Commander, Russell Crowe will be compared to him in my mind. Here Horatio is as intelligent and daring as always, with a quick mind and a sense of fairness that keeps his subordinates quite loyal to him. They know he doesn’t ask anything of them that he wouldn’t think of doing himself, and he’s not afraid to jump into the fray should it become necessary. Watching Gruffudd’s face as one of his charges is beaten for the “crime” of countermanding the Captian’s orders to stop a sail from being irreparably torn stirred my heart. He conveys the pain he is feeling with his eyes and expressions without saying a word. Rather than being a hero who must extol all of his accomplishments, the character of Horatio as portrayed by Gruffudd is one of assurance and confidence, who would sacrifice all that he has accomplished and aspires to be to preserve all that is good about the service.
He says as much when confronted in his prison cell by Commodore Pellew, prior to the start of the court-martial. It’s quite obvious that Pellew truly loves Horatio as a son. The fact that they are not family allows him to be there. However, Lindsay gives away his feelings on the matter when the camera is on him and none of his fellow Commodores are watching. His arguments in favor of Hornblower are not lost on the viewer for a moment.
The cinematography is excellent, although some shots were obviously filmed against a blue screen. There is some great symbolism after Buckland knows his actions have condemned Kennedy as a guilty man when he is innocent and that Hornblower has commanded a loyalty he will never have. It shows him pouring a glass of red wine and it overflowing and the wine flowing off of the tabletop as if blood. It’s one of the best scenes I’ve ever viewed.
C.S. Forrester this is a slideshow biography of the author of the novels upon which the miniseries is based.
Classes of Ships this is a slideshow of the British Royal Navy classes of ships, including the number of guns, weight, crew complement, and command structure.
The extras are nothing that great to speak of, but when the story itself is this wonderful, they don’t have to be. Do yourself a favor and rent the whole series from Netflix, or just buy them and you can get lost in Ioan Gruffudd’s eyes any time you want – like I do.
Previous story in the series (link): Horatio Hornblower – The Wrong War
Next story in the series (link): Horatio Hornblower – The New Adventures – Loyalty/Duty