Produced by Andrew Benson
Directed by Andrew Grieve
Starring Ioan Gruffudd, Robert Lindsay, Dorian Healy, Michael Byrne, and Robert Bathurst.
- Documentary: “England’s Royal Warships,” hosted by Edward Windsor
- Documentary: “Sail 2000: Aboard the Eagle”
- ”Making of Hornblower” documentary
- Interactive 3D Cannon schematic
- Guide to Royal Warships
- Glossary of nautical terms
- C.S. Forester biography
- Talent filmographies
Rating: NR, suitable for audiences 13+
My advice: Run out the guns and buy it.
C.S. Forester’s character, Horatio Hornblower, fired the imaginations of an entire generation of English youth, painting a romantic portrait of the life of a sailor in the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic wars. Focusing on a young man, rising through the ranks of the navy through sheer determination and a sharp wit, the series of novels about Horatio were some of the most popular of their era. So it was only natural that someone would eventually want to translate the heroic exploits of the crew of HMS Indefatigable to the screen. This series of films represents a joint effort between A&E and United Productions, banking on A&E’s reputation for quality literary adaptations to create a truly memorable series of films.
Horatio Hornblower: The Complete Adventures collects the original quartet of films, as well as the follow-up two-parter, in a stacked six-disc box. Beginning with “The Duel,” where Horatio must survive his brutal initiation into the navy at the hands of a brutal senior midshipman, the series charts Hornblower’s career up through a full-blown lieutenant. His growing relationship with his captain, Sir Edward Pellew, keeps Hornblower focused on what it takes to become a great officer, as well as providing him a stellar example of what a good captain should be. Hornblower’s best friend Kennedy becomes his confidant, inspiration, and oft-needed right-hand man in Horatio’s more daring (read “crazed”) schemes.
This series preserves every bit of Forester’s swashbuckling action novels, without giving up any of the character interaction and story that made the books truly phenomenal. This blend of guns-blazing action and intelligent characterization makes for a series of “thinking person’s action movies,” a real rarity in the world of film. The historical reproductions are amazing, down to a full-scale replica of a British frigate used for shots on the sea. Don’t let the looks fool you--this is no Merchant Ivory flick, but despite the lavish attention to small details of the historical and literary adaptation, Grieve and company don’t flinch away when the cannonballs start flying and the sabers start rattling.
The performances are top-notch across the board. Gruffudd’s Horatio is a likeable Everyman, on good terms with both his captain and his crew, in whom he inspires almost unprecedented loyalty. Robert Lindsay is outstanding as Captain Pellew, who must maintain strict discipline and a somewhat gruff demeanor for purposes of running the ship, but has an increasingly hard time keeping his genuine liking for Hornblower from clouding his judgement. Their relationship transforms into a powerful maritime father-son scenario that becomes very important in the last two installments, when Pellew must sit on the Captain’s Council as Horatio is tried for mutiny.
The stories themselves are of slightly varying quality, but as a whole excellent. The two-parter that closes out the collection with “The Mutiny” and “Retribution” is a bit of a letdown from the previous four discs, but not so bad as to cost the set as a whole more than half a cup. It’s still an interesting story, to be sure, but it runs a bit heavy on the courtroom drama around Horatio’s mutiny trial, and forces viewers to believe that great swaths of the navy (outside of the Indefatigable) suffer fools gladly in the captain’s chair--which I’m not sure I believe. And even if I did, it makes the whole thing incredibly frustrating to watch on behalf on the characters to whom I’ve become attached.
The extra features are fairly extensive, though some commentary tracks would have vaulted this set straight to the top of the heap. As it is, most of the features are loosely connected to the films, with only one “making of” feature that deals directly with the films themselves. The documentary hosted by Prince Edward is fascinating, thorough, and gives a great comparison between the old navy and the new. The glossary of nautical terms is interesting, and I’m continually amazed how many phrases in common usage were originated in the navy.
These discs satisfy the action junkie and the lit fiend in me, and very few (if any) films previously have managed to hit both those spots at once. Swashbuckling, high-intensity naval battles, flying lead, splintered wood, and witty dialogue make them compelling viewing, to say the least. Highly recommended watching for any and all, but especially for fans of the rapier and flintlock set or anybody that ever wanted to be a sailor.
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