Horatio Hornblower: The Duel: Horatio Hornblower (1998-2003)
December 16, 2022 10:10 PM - All Seasons - Subscribe

Ioan Gruffudd stars as the British naval officer during his early career in these 8 movie-length adaptations of the C. S. Forester books. Paul McGann appears in later episodes as Lieutenant Bush. The series aired in the US on A&E.

Wikipedia entries (and minor some spoilers) for the episodes:

The Duel: Hornblower enters the navy as an older midshipman and deals with bullying. And rice.
The Lieutenant's Examination: Hornblower deals with with the gap between the reality and reputation of a famous naval officer, the bubonic plague, and studying for an exam. And cows.
The Duchess and the Devil: Hornblower experiences life as a Spanish prisoner of war. He gains the respect of his compatriots and his enemies, establishes his honor, performs an act of heroism, and consorts with an actress.
The Wrong War: Hornblower pulls a reverse Scarlet Pimpernel, accompanying an exiled French noble back to his native land in an effort to rally the French people in support of their former feudal oppressors. It does not go well.
The Mutiny: Hornblower is assigned to the HMS Renown, under a captain whose pillars of management are cruelty and paranoia.
The Retribution: Hornblower fills a leadership vacuum on the Renown and plays a key role in its action against the Spanish in Santo Domingo.
Duty: Hornblower faces his most dangerous threat: Surviving on half-pay that comes during peacetime. He takes command of the Hotspur. A mission to France nearly flounders. Irishmen are untrustworthy. The cook lacks talent.
Duty: A mysterious passenger on Hornblowers' ship attracts the attention of the diplomatic service. Hornblower outsmarts sneaky Irish and French opponents yet again.
posted by mark k (9 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
These were some of the first "adult" books I read from my father's collection of genre paperbacks. I missed the series when it first aired, but recently watched it on DVD.

It's mostly OK. Pretty good production values, Gruffud looks the part of the a heroic British officer when he needs to (probably more than he should, if I remember the books), and up until the weird, unreconstructed anti-Irish turn of the last two episodes I thought the plots worked pretty well.

Based on books from the early '60s, the series doesn't make any attempt to deconstruct the heroic tales of the British fight against imperialism. You won't find an enlightened, scientifically-minded Irish doctor here.
posted by mark k at 10:30 PM on December 16, 2022 [2 favorites]

These are available on YouTube via several uploaders, including the first one, The Even Chance.

If you liked the production and storytelling of the Sharpe BBC film series with Sean Bean, I found these quite similar. But with Napoleonic Wars era navy tales of deprivation and adventure.

Gruffudd does a good job with the progress from virgin Midshipman to chad Commander over the course of the series.
posted by bartleby at 11:31 PM on December 16, 2022 [2 favorites]

And don't forget Jamie Bamber as the woobie Archie. He'd later go on to play Apollo on the Battlestar Galactica reboot.
posted by rednikki at 8:00 AM on December 17, 2022

I didn't see as many of these as I wanted to, but I liked them. I particularly never forgot the thirty-year-old midshipman drowning himself. Afterwards I read some of the books and liked them as well as I liked Agatha Christie -- fascinating at the time, mostly forgotten afterwards.

What I chiefly remember this series for is not exactly anything to do with it, but a series of dramatic events developing out of Hornblower slash fandom in the late '90s. I wasn't even there, but things got weird.
posted by Countess Elena at 11:09 AM on December 17, 2022

Soooo, after watching a couple episodes on YouTube (thank you Bartley), these are a combination of Ripping Good Yarns, Boys Own, and crack cocaine.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 8:15 PM on December 17, 2022 [1 favorite]

I loved these books and loved this TV series when it came out.

> You won't find an enlightened, scientifically-minded Irish doctor here.

Yes, as I recall I read them in between the Jack and Stephen books so I could catch my breath.
posted by The corpse in the library at 10:59 PM on December 17, 2022

I just want to apologize to Jamie Bamber because this series singlehandedly launched my own personal petty enmity against his Kennedy -- simply because I got into the books way before I realized this series existed and what I was looking forward to was Bush being Hornblower's steady second.

OTOH thanks to Paul McGann, that's how I got into Doctor Who...
posted by cendawanita at 2:21 AM on December 19, 2022

You won't find an enlightened, scientifically-minded Irish doctor here.

I have my own personal theory (unvalidated by actual dives into the pop culture at the time) that Hornblower (being something that came out first in the 1930s and a mega hit for its time) became a cultural reference point that people would riff on, e.g. early pitches for Star Trek (and subsequent canon Easter eggs) but also react to: when I look at publishing dates, it feels like Hornblower --> TOS --> Aubreyad. And a lot of it is because I get the sense that Aubrey was a riff on Shatner's Kirk more than Horatio (revisiting the HH books and S1 TOS it felt very apparent who Kirk was calling back on, but Shatner doesn't play him so saturnine, and in turn, Jack Aubrey is formed).

But back to this series, yeah. Filming stuff on water is mad expensive - and eventually it doesn't take very long to notice they reused the same action sequences. The anti-Irish bit feels very odd, in that you can tell they feel that the idea is so obviously racist on its face they can play it straight (considering Gruffud's Welsh accent comes out every so often, that's a bit of a laugh too).
posted by cendawanita at 2:33 AM on December 19, 2022

Hornblower...became a cultural reference point

One would occasionally catch, in the mid 20th century, references to H.H., made from the early 20th. The character (or at least a caricature) and the 'wooden ships and iron men' genre was widespread and popular enough to be a household name or offhand common reference. But it has since passed out of mass popular culture.

So if you rolled your eyes and said 'Jeez, ten minutes in a canoe, and this guy thinks he's Horatio Hornblower already'; 1970 might understand you, 1950 definitely would, but 1990 wouldn't.
posted by bartleby at 11:00 PM on December 21, 2022 [1 favorite]

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