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Horatio Hornblower Collector’s Edition (1998-2003) – DVD Review

Horatio Hornblower Collector's Edition DVD cover art


Written by Russell Lewis, Mike Cullen, Patrick Harbinson, Chris Ould, T. R. Bowen, Ben Rostul, Niall Leonard & Stephen Churchett, all based on the stories by C.S. Forester
Directed by Andrew Grieve
Starring Ioan Gruffudd, Robert Lindsay, Dorian Healy, Michael Byrne, Robert Bathurst, Paul McGann, Paul Copley, Sean Gilder, and Julia Sawalha


  • Interview with actor Gruffudd
  • Running audio commentary on Loyalty and Duty with director Grieve, producer Andrew Benson, and costume designer John Mallo
  • Bonus programs: “England’s Royal Warships,” “Sail 2000: Aboard the Eagle,” and a making-of
  • Forester bio
  • Glossary of nautical terms
  • Interactive 3-D Cannon schematic
  • Guide to Royal Warships
  • Cast and crew bios
  • Photo gallery

Released by: A&E Home Video.
Rating: NR, suitable for teens and up.
Region: 1
Anamorphic: Vols. 1-6 appear in their original 1.33:1 format but Vols. 7 & 8 are indeed anamorphic.

My Advice: If you don’t already own the individual sets, then yes, buy it.

[ad#longpost]Horatio Hornblower (Gruffudd) is a series of films based on the character created by C.S. Forester. The gist is that our hero starts off as a young recruit in the British Navy and works his way up the ranks over the course of seven films (or in this case, eight discs). Such was the popularity of the films that after the first four television films and the followup two-parter, two more films were made in 2003 with Hornblower’s further adventures. The complete series is what A&E has thrown into this ginormous boxed set.

These are solid adaptations, as you would expect from A&E, although some liberties have been taken with such things as timelines and order of events. This makes it possible to shoot a bunch of films in succession rather than waiting years for the actors to age to the point where Hornblower’s rapid ascent up the ranks could slow down a bit to match the books. Arguable? Sure. Forgivable? Quite. What’s important is that the series of films does not lose sight of what made the books popular (and good) to begin with: the proper balance of well-rounded, fleshed out characters plus plenty of buckles to be swashed. There’s also much to be said for the attention to historical details.

The acting is top notch. Gruffudd is excellent and would have to be in order to engender such a believable response from captain, crew, and us, the audience. He makes Hornblower somebody to root for no matter how insane the adventure and the risks are getting. Robert Lindsay shines as Captain Pellew, who must walk the line between being the disciplinarian needed to keep a ship afloat and being a father figure to Hornblower (whom Pellew likes a great deal). And later on, standouts include McGann’s 2nd Lieutenant Bush and Sawalha as Horatio’s wife to be. As for the stories, you’ve got a wide array of quality here, but that’s more a case of taste than anything else. After a great deal of cannons going off and adventure, the courtroom drama that takes hold in the middle of the series gets a little boggy, but only just.

Ioan Gruffudd as Horatio Hornblower in the Horatio Hornblower Collector's Edition

The extras spread across the entire set are quite choice, though apart from the new interview with Gruffudd, this is pretty much the same spread that we had on the previous incarnations of these releases. The glossary of nautical terms was extremely helpful as I wouldn’t know my mainmast from my barnacle, so to speak. The making-of runs for about an hour and is nice enough, though it balances behind the scenes with promoting the series. The bonus bit that comes on disc four is a forty-five minute special covering the Royal Navy in a quick but extensive overview, hosted by Prince Edward. Nice.

On disc five, we have a docu (again at forty-five minutes) that covers the history of square rig ships, and the Eagle of the title is the only military square-rigged ship still active. I had no idea such beasts were still out there, so that was quite cool. It’s the last two discs where we finally get what we’ve been drooling for: commentaries on both films. Apart from the widescreen format–which is just necessary for films about bigass sailing ship, don’t you think?–you’ve got that aforementioned interview. While it’s only twenty minutes, the good news is that it’s a dense twenty minutes. It’s Gruffudd talking about all the stuff you wished he had been around for the commentaries to talk about: getting the role, almost dying on set, working with the various cast and crew. It’s no fluff, all content. Exactly what you would want such an interview to consist of.

Ioan Gruffudd from the Horatio Hornblower Collector's Edition

If you dig on naval films like Master and Commander or on books like the O’Brian novels or the primary source material here, then you at least owe it to yourself to rent these and try them out. If you already own the previous releases of the discs, then you should at least Netflix the final disc to watch the Gruffudd interview, but beyond that, you’re already covered. Still, if you are a fan of such things and don’t already own these, now would be a good time to grab them.

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