The first six episodes of the maritime adventure series based of the novels by C.S. Forester. In 'The Even Chance' seventeen-year-old seaman Horatio Hornblower (Ioan Gruffudd) boards the Justinian at Portsmouth. Nervous, seasick and afraid of heights, Hornblower soon falls prey to resident bully Jack Simpson, but refuses to blab to his superiors, even when Simpson beats him. Hornblower's fortunes change for the better when he is transferred to the frigate Indefatigable under Sir Edward Pellew (Robert Lindsay), who puts him in charge of his own division. 'The Frogs and the Lobsters' has the Indefatigable join a task force to return Lord Moncoutant to his loyal villagers in Muzillac. However, Republican supporters in the community threaten Moncoutant's safety and he responds with draconian measures. Local schoolteacher Mariette stands up against the Lord's brutal regime, and Hornblower finds himself siding with her. 'The Examination for Lieutenant' finds Hornblower being encouraged by Captain Pellew to take his lieutenant's exams; meanwhile, Spain joins forces with the French against the English fleet, and the young seaman must find a way to keep control of his crew whilst they are subjected to severe rationing and quarantined due to a deadly plague. 'The Duchess and the Devil' sees Hornblower entrusted with the protection of important naval despatches and asked to accompany the Duchess of Wharfedale on a journey to England. When they are captured by the Spanish fleet, Hornblower reveals the despatches to the Duchess, but begins to wonder how far she can be trusted. 'Mutiny' finds Hornblower serving as third lieutenant on board the HMS Renown and suffering under the erratic will of its captain, James Sawyer (David Warner). In fact, Sawyer's behaviour gets worse and worse as time moves on, so much so that the other officers start to fear for the safety of the vessel. Hornblower starts off defending Sawyer, but eventually even he begins to think the unthinkable; namely, that a mutiny might be in order. Finally, in 'Retribution', the HMS Renown has run aground, but Hornblower has come up with a plan that could save the day: why don't they surprise the Spanish by making an unannounced land attack on the same fort they recently tried to attack by sea?
Based freely on the classic novels
by CS Forester, Hornblower
is a series of TV films following the progress of a young officer through the ranks of the British navy during the Napoleonic Wars. The series' greatest asset is the handsome and charismatic Ioan Gruffudd in the lead role, surely a major star in the making.
For television films the production values are very good, though as Titanic, Waterworld and The Perfect Storm demonstrated, filming an aquatic adventure is a very expensive business, and it is clear that the Hornblower dramas simply make the best of comparatively small budgets. No more faithful to Forester's books than the 1951 Gregory Peck classic Captain Horatio Hornblower, the real inspiration seems to have come from the success of Sharpe, starring Sean Bean, which likewise featured a British hero in the Napoleonic Wars. Nevertheless, while rather more easygoing than the real British navy of the time, the Hornblower saga delivers an entertaining adventure, greatly enhanced by the presence of such guest stars as Denis Lawson, Cheri Lunghi, Ronald Pickup and Anthony Sher. --Gary S Dalkin