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The score is from the movie, which we hope to add soon.

Hornblower is the umbrella title of a series of British historical fiction war television films based on three of C. S. Forester's ten novels about the fictional character Horatio Hornblower, a Royal Navy officer during the French Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars.

The series ran from 1998 to 2003, with Ioan Gruffudd in the title role. It was produced by the British broadcaster Meridian Television, and was shown on ITV in the UK and A&E in the US. It is often repeated on ITV4.

Main cast

Ioan Gruffudd as Horatio Hornblower

Robert Lindsay as Captain (and later Commodore and Admiral) Sir Edward Pellew

Jamie Bamber as Lieutenant Archie Kennedy (5 films)

Paul Copley as Matthews, Boatswain

Sean Gilder as Styles, Boatswain's Mate

Dorian Healy as Midshipman Jack Simpson (1st film)

Paul McGann as Lieutenant William Bush (4 films)

Jonathan Coy as Lieutenant (and later Captain) Bracegirdle (5 films)

Simon Sherlock as Oldroyd (4 films)

Ian McElhinney as Captain Hammond (4 films)

Colin MacLaclan as Ship's Master Bowles (4 films)

Chris Barnes as Finch (2 films)

Lorcan Cranitch as Wolfe (2 films)

Philip Glenister as Hobbs (2 films)

Julia Sawalha as Maria Mason (2 films)

David Rintoul as Dr. Clive, Ship's Surgeon (2001 and 2003)

David Warner as Captain James Sawyer (2 films)

Nicholas Jones as Lieutenant Buckland (2 films)

Other well-known actors have appeared in guest roles, including Denis Lawson, Antony Sher, Ian McNeice, Andrew Tiernan, Samuel West, Christian Coulson, Cherie Lunghi, Greg Wise and Ronald Pickup.

The series consists of eight television films, which are notable for their high production values. All were later released on DVD (with the original aspect ratio of 16:9 widescreen in Europe and 4:3 in the US). In the US, the series was retitled Horatio Hornblower, and some of the films were known by different titles. The eight films cover the events of just three of the ten novels (Mr. Midshipman Hornblower, Lieutenant Hornblower, and Hornblower and the Hotspur), and various alterations and additions are made to the source material (e.g., the recurring characters of Lt. Archie Kennedy, Matthews and Styles).


Emmy Award (1999) for Outstanding Mini-series Emmy Award (1999) for Outstanding Single Camera Picture Editing for a Mini-series or a Movie


Behind the Scenes

ibid: In this section you will hear that the series was for just four episodes/films, but later A&E expanded it to eight

The Even Chance (US title: The Duel)
(Released: 7 October 1998)

The Even Chance is the first of eight Hornblower television adaptations relating the exploits of Horatio Hornblower, the protagonist in a series of novels and short stories by C.S. Forester. The Even Chance is the name given to this first film in the United Kingdom, while in the United States it is known as The Duel. Welsh actor Ioan Gruffudd plays the title role.

Ioan Gruffudd as Midshipman Horatio Hornblower Robert Lindsay as Captain Sir Edward Pellew
Dorian Healy as Midshipman Jack Simpson Michael Byrne as Captain Keene
Robert Bathurst as Lieutenant Eccleston Duncan Bell as Midshipman Clayton
Paul Copley as Matthews Sean Gilder as Styles
Simon Sherlock as Oldroyd Chris Barnes as Finch
Jamie Bamber as Midshipman Archie Kennedy Colin MacLachlan as Master Bowles
Roger May as Lieutenant Chadd Vincent Grass as Captain Forget
Richard Lumsden as Midshipman Hether

The film begins in January 1793 as a 17-year-old Hornblower joins a ship of the line, Justinian.
Hornblower is introduced to his shipmates, one of whom is the ruthless Jack Simpson, who rules the midshipman's berth as the bully he is.

Hornblower becomes suicidal under Simpson's malignant rule and finally finds opportunity to challenge him to a duel.
An older midshipman, Clayton, feels guilty that he himself has not stood against Simpson.
He knocks Hornblower unconscious, takes his place in the duel and is killed.
Simpson, on the other hand, recovers to fight another day.

Hornblower goes on to join the frigate, Indefatigable, under the command of Captain Pellew.
Midshipmen Kennedy, Hether, and Cleveland go with him, as well as Simpson's old division which, due to Pellew's ire, becomes Hornblower's division.
Hornblower's conduct under the pressure of battle eventually wins the respect and loyalty of these men.

Simpson joins Indefatigable (known by her crew as the Indy) when Justinian is sunk by a rogue French ship called Papillon.
The Indy and her crew take on a cutting out expedition into the Gironde, take Papillon, and sail to rejoin Indefatigable.
During the operation, Simpson attempts the murder of Hornblower, and sets Kennedy adrift.

The French Ship, Papillon, now in the hands of the British, is sailing back to the Indy when the Indy comes under fire from three French ships.
On the way back to the Indy, the Papillon comes under fire from shore batteries, killing the two officers superior to Hornblower, Lt. Eccleston and Lt. Chadd.
Shortly before the most senior officer (Eccleston) dies, he tells Hornblower to take command.
Simpson attempts to challenge Hornblower's authority, but Hornblower tells Mr Bowles (the ship's master), that if Mr Simpson resists "you have my permission to shoot him".
Simpson is then taken below whilst the Papillon sails back to the Indy.

The Indy is now taking heavy fire from the three French ships, and Hornblower orders the Papillon not to lower her French colours.
The Papillon then engages the French ships forcing them to surrender.
After the battle, Mr Simpson and Hornblower are called to Captain Pellew's cabin.
Accused by Hornblower of attempted murder, Simpson challenges him to a second duel, which Hornblower accepts (after receiving permission from Pellew).

In this second duel, which takes place on a beach, Simpson shoots at Hornblower before the combatants are actually told to fire.
Simpson claims, dubiously, that it was a misfire, running forward to see if his opponent is still alive.
But Hornblower is not badly injured. Simpson is then told that he must stand his ground and take fire.
Faced with this prospect, Simpson pleads pathetically to Hornblower for his life, revealing himself for the coward he is.
Hornblower fires into the air, claiming that shooting the now defenseless Simpson is "not worth the powder".
Smarting at this insult, Simpson attempts to knife Hornblower, but is shot dead just before he reaches him by Captain Pellew, who is standing concealed on a cliff above the beach.

As the film draws to its end, Captain Pellew tells Hornblower precisely how impressed he has been by his actions.
Pellew anticipates that Hornblower has a great career ahead of him, if he continues as he has begun.

The Examination for Lieutenant (US title: The Fire Ships)
(Released: 18 November 1998)

Ioan Gruffudd as Midshipman Horatio Hornblower Robert Lindsay as Captain Sir Edward Pellew
Ian McNeice as Mr. Tapling Denis Lawson as Captain 'Dreadnought' Foster
Paul Copley as Matthews Sean Gilder as Styles
Andrew Tiernan as Bunting Ian McElhinney as Captain Hammond

Sir Edward Pellew, Captain of HMS Indefatigable decides to put his protégé, Horatio Hornblower, forward for the examination for lieutenant. Leading up to the exam, Hornblower faces many challenges.

Spain has made peace with France and is no longer an ally of Britain – Spanish ships, although technically neutral, begin to attack British ships. Wreckage from one supply ship has already been found by HMS Indefatigable. Indefatigable finds three survivors; among them is Captain "Dreadnought" Foster, a famously heroic officer who influences the ambitious Hornblower.

Spain's actions have deprived the Gibraltar fleet of its supplies leaving the captains no alternative but to cut rations by half. This leads seaman Bunting (Andrew Tiernan) to commit theft, as his friend has died of scurvy and he fears going the same way. He was caught by Hornblower, reprimanded by Pellew and punished by being made to run the gauntlet.

Soon a Mr Tapling from the diplomatic service arrives, and he and Hornblower head ashore to Oran, in Ottoman Algeria, to buy grain and cattle for the fleet. Soon it is discovered that this is a plague town and so Hornblower is appointed captain of the Caroline, a transport schooner, and spends his three weeks of mandatory quarantine at sea with the rations. Bunting had tried to escape in the longboat and get to shore but had been caught again by Hornblower, and now was his prisoner. Hornblower, short of hands on the Caroline but also keen to redeem Bunting, gives him a chance to prove his worth. Later, while they are ashore to load water, they are attacked by Spanish soldiers, and Bunting tries to escape again. Hornblower catches him, but Bunting forces Hornblower to shoot him.

They return to the Caroline to discover that Captain Foster has arrived in HMS Dreadnought and has sent a boarding party to take cattle from the Caroline, which is still under quarantine. Hornblower manages to stop the boarding party just before their boat reaches Dreadnought, and he requests that Foster send both the meat and the boarding party back to the Caroline. Foster refuses and he appears angry with Hornblower.

They return to HMS Indefatigable at Gibraltar, and Hornblower attempts his exam.
He appears to be failing until a fire ship sails into the anchorage, and Hornblower and Foster go aboard and steer it clear of the fleet. Pellew remarks on Hornblower's courage and he is allowed to keep his rank until the next exam. Indefatigable sails off into the distance.

The Duchess and the Devil
(Released: 24 February 1999)

Ioan Gruffudd as Acting Lieutenant/Lieutenant Horatio Hornblower Robert Lindsay as Captain Sir Edward Pellew
Cherie Lunghi as Katherine "Kitty" Cobham / the Duchess of Wharfedale Christopher Fulford as Midshipman Hunter
Ronald Pickup as Don Massaredo Jamie Bamber as Midshipman Archie Kennedy
Jonathan Coy as Lieutenant Bracegirdle John Woodvine as Sir Hew Dalrymple
Paul Copley as Matthews Sean Gilder as Styles
Simon Sherlock as Oldroyd Jean-Yves Berteloot as Etienne de Vergasse
Vincent S. Boluda as Spanish Lieutenant Jolyon Baker as Captain Joubert
Colin MacLachlan as Master Bowles

Acting Lieutenant Horatio Hornblower and his men launch a surprise attack on the French supply ship La Reve and capture it.

Back on the HMS Indefatigable, Captain Edward Pellew orders Horatio to take command of La Reve and sail it to Portsmouth, where it is to be sold for £4,000 to serve as a dispatch ship, and informs him that they have both been invited to a dinner party hosted by Major General Sir Hew Dalrymple, the Governor of Gibraltar. Among the guests is a woman identified as the Duchess of Wharfedale.

After the party, Horatio is ordered by Captain Pellew to also escort the Duchess home to England. However, before they can reach England, La Reve sails into a Spanish fleet, which was believed to be anchored at Cadiz. Horatio tries to sell himself and his crew as French, but an officer aboard one of the Spanish ships knows of the recent capture of La Reve. Horatio and his crew are taken to a Spanish prison, run by the Don Alfredo de Massaredo. In his cell, Horatio is reunited with Midshipman Archie Kennedy, who went MIA in "The Even Chance". While Horatio says they should wait to escape until both Archie is well enough to travel and they know more about the Spanish garrison holding them, a hot-headed Midshipman Hunter launches an escape attempt early and fails. With Hunter injured, Horatio takes the blame for the escape attempt and is punished in Hunter's stead. During his imprisonment, Archie reveals to Horatio that the Duchess isn't a duchess, but an actress named Katherine "Kitty" Cobham, pretending to be the Duchess of Wharfedale so she may return to England. Shortly after, the "Duchess" is given passage on Almeria, a ship sailing to Oporto in neutral Portugal.

On a stormy day, Horatio and the Don witness a naval encounter between Almeria, which is believed to have dropped the "Duchess" off at Oporto, and Indefatigable, leaving Almeria damaged on the rocks. Horatio volunteers to rescue the people on board and gives his word that he and his crew will return. Aboard the ship is Kitty Cobham. After rescuing the Spanish crew, Horatio and his crew are picked up by Indefatigable, where Captain Pellew informs Horatio and the "Duchess" that, for his bravery in the Fire Ship Attack on Gibraltar, he has been promoted to Lieutenant. Horatio keeps his word and asks Captain Pellew to sail back to the prison. Horatio is however released by the Spanish government for his bravery in saving Spanish sailors.

The Frogs and the Lobsters (US title: The Wrong War)
(Released: 2 April 1999)

Ioan Gruffudd as Lieutenant Horatio Hornblower Robert Lindsay as Captain Sir Edward Pellew
Antony Sher as Colonel Moncoutant Samuel West as Major Lord Edrington
John Shrapnel as General Charette Peter Vaughan as Admiral Lord Hood
Estelle Skornik as Mariette Jamie Bamber as Acting Lieutenant Archie Kennedy
Jonathan Coy as Lieutenant Bracegirdle Colin MacLachlan as Master Bowles
Paul Copley as Matthews Sean Gilder as Styles
Simon Sherlock as Oldroyd Jean Badin as Fauré
Ian Lindsay as Collins

Set during the French revolutionary wars and very loosely based on the chapter of the same name in C.S. Forester's novel, Mr. Midshipman Hornblower and on the actual ill-fated Quiberon expedition of 1795. The main title is based on the often derogatory description of the French by the British (as well as other English speakers) and on the red coats of the British soldiers. The secondary title deals with Horatio's own duty to the Crown and the alliance with the French and his struggle with his own sympathy towards the French revolutionaries.

(Released: 24 March 2002)

Ioan Gruffudd as 3rd Lieutenant Horatio Hornblower David Warner as Captain James Sawyer
Nicholas Jones as 1st Lieutenant Buckland Paul McGann as 2nd Lieutenant William Bush
Jamie Bamber as 4th Lieutenant Archie Kennedy Paul Copley as Matthews, Boatswain
Sean Gilder as Styles, Boatswain's Mate
Philip Glenister as Gunner Hobbs David Rintoul as Dr. Clive
Terence Corrigan as Midshipman Wellard Gilly Gilchrist as Randall
Paul Brightwell as Sergeant Whiting Robert Lindsay as Commodore Edward Pellew, 1st Viscount Exmouth

The film starts in Kingston, Jamaica, where Lieutenant Horatio Hornblower has been imprisoned for mutiny. He is then visited by his former captain, now Commodore, Sir Edward Pellew, where Horatio explains how he came to be in prison.

The film then flashes back to 6 months earlier, where Horatio is 3rd Lieutenant onboard HMS Renown, under the command of renown Captain James Sawyer, an elderly captain, a hero from the Battle of the Nile and a pupil for Admiral Nelson. The other Lieutenants are 4th Lieutenant Archie Kennedy, 2nd Lieutenant William Bush, and 1st Lieutenant Buckland. Despite his reputation, Sawyer is a cruel man who runs a disrespecting crew that he doesn't care of their disrespect, much to the dislike of Horatio.

After a trip to Plymouth, Renown is sent on a mission to Santo Domingo, currently undergoing a slave rebellion, to attack a Spanish fort, threatening British trade routes in the West Indies. On the way to Santo Domingo, conditions under Captain Sawyer's command worsen as Midshipman Wellard is beaten multiple times, Horatio is placed on a 36 hour watch, and the crew are given extra rations of rum by Captain's orders. Horatio's watch is then extended another 36 hours after Captain Sawyer accuses Horatio and the other lieutenants, except Bush, of mutinous ideas.

Afterwards, Lieutenants Buckland, Horatio, and Archie confirm Captain Sawyer is too old and unfit to command the ship. As the Lieutenants meet about the matter, Bush joins them, agreeing the captain is unfit for command. All the lieutenants agree this is mutiny and know they will be court martial led in Kingston. As they meet, a loyal gunner Hobbs informs the captain the lieutenants are nowhere to be seen and suspects mutiny.

The captain calls in the Marines to search for the lieutenants. During the search, Captain Sawyer confronts Lieutenant Kennedy and the captain accidentally falls into the hold. As the captain recovers, Buckland is made acting captain and rumors have it someone pushed the captain. Captain Sawyer does recover and has Lieutenants Bush, Hornblower, and Kennedy arrested for mutiny.

Renown arrives at Santo Domingo, only to find the Spanish fort is too high for the ship's guns to fire at. As the Spanish fort open fires on the Renown, Matthews releases the imprisoned lieutenants and Dr.Clive finally deems Captain Sawyer unfit to command. The Lieutenants lock the captain in his cabin and retreat out of range, saving Renown.

Back in present day, Commodore Edward Pellew, 1st Viscount Exmouth asks Horatio more about the situation and how did Captain Sawyer came to fall.

(Released: 25 March 2002)

Ioan Gruffudd as 3rd Lieutenant/Captain Horatio Hornblower David Warner as Captain James Sawyer
Nicholas Jones as 1st Lieutenant/Acting Captain Buckland Paul McGann as 2nd Lieutenant William Bush
Jamie Bamber as 4th Lieutenant Archie Kennedy Paul Copley as Matthews, Boatswain
Sean Gilder as Styles, Boatswain's Mate Philip Glenister as Gunner Hobbs
David Rintoul as Dr. Clive Terence Corrigan as Midshipman Wellard
Gilly Gilchrist as Randall Paul Brightwell as Sergeant Whiting
Antonio Gil as Colonel Francisco Manuel Ortega Hugh Quarshie as Francois Lefanu
Katia Caballero as Señora Ortega Robert Lindsay as Commodore Edward Pellew, 1st Viscount Exmouth
Ian McElhinney as Captain Hammond
John Castle as Captain Collins

The film starts in Kingston, Jamaica, where the court martial for Horatio and the other lieutenants begins. It is seen that Lieutenants Bush and Kennedy are locked away in the prison sickbay and only Lieutenants Buckland and Hornblower are at the trial. The tribunal of the court includes Commodore Pellew, Captain Hammond, and Captain Collins.

The film then flashes back to 6 months earlier, where the Renown is retreating from the Spanish fort. While the captain is still locked in his cabin, the dead are buried at sea. Despite Acting Captain's desire to sail to Kingston, Horatio and Archie suggest they launch a surprise night attack on the Spanish fort by land and then trap Spanish ships in the nearby bay.

The film then goes back to present day, where the tribunal is questioning Dr. Clive about his decision that Captain Sawyer was unfit to command.

Back 6 months earlier, a group of sailors, led by a man named Randall, choose to desert the HMS Renown during the night rather than serve under mutineers. Randall offers to let Hobbs come with them, but Hobbs states he's too loyal to Captain Sawyer to abandon him now, so Randall knocks him out and leaves.

Back to the Court Martial, the tribunal asks why Buckland decided to continue with the mission, despite a deserting crew and an injured captain. Captain Hammond claim it was for glory, but Horatio disagreed.

Back to 6 months earlier, Matthews discovers Randall's desertion. Because 33 others deserted with him, Acting Captain Buckland agrees to attack the fort. The landing force, led by Hoartio, Archie, and Bush, discovers Randall and the deserters all killed.

During the tribunal's recess, they agree Captains Sawyer's good name should be preserved, but need a clear outcome for the lieutenants. So they decide if found guilty, they will only hang one man, but don't know who yet.

After finding the dead deserters, Horatio concludes it wasn't the Spanish who killed them, so they continue on, with no time to bury the dead. Meanwhile, rebel slaves take out the sailors guarding the lifeboats. On the ship, Captain Sawyer asks Acting Captain Buckland to release him an in exchange, he will speak for Buckland at the court martial in Kingston, but Buckland refuses the offer. Buckland is called on deck as rebel slaves, who reveal to be the ones behind the killing of Randal and the deserters, have taken one for the lifeboats and demand the HMS Renown leave Santo Domingo, claiming this is not the Renown's fight. As the landing party approaches the fort, a clash occurs between the HMS Renown and the rebel slaves, which alerts the Spanish to the presence of the landing force. As the landing party is under heavy fire by the Spanish Garrison, Horatio discovers a series of underground tunnels, used by the Spanish during the fighting. Using the same tunnels, Horatio helps the landing party overpower the Spanish garrison and take the fort. Using hot shot, the landing party uses the fort's cannons to fire on the Spanish ships in the bay.

Back in Kingston, Captain Hammond congratulates Horatio on his use of the underground tunnel system to take the fort, but criticizes him on abandoning Bush and the rest of the landing party during the fighting to find the tunnels. Commodore Pellew and Collins just look at the end result and also congratulate Horatio on his use of the hot shot on the Spanish. They also disagree on Captain Hammond's interpretation of the events. During another recess, Captain Collins states his opinion that Commodore Pellew is uncomfortable with judging a man he cares for as his own son

After their victory, Acting Captain Buckland joins the other lieutenants at the fort, where they meet Colonel Francisco Manuel Ortega, the Spanish Commanding Officer, who is anxious to leave the island. It is later discovered why; the fort is under siege by the rebel slaves, who the small group they encountered back on the HMS Renown was a scouting party, and the Spanish are starving. As Buckland stalls the Spanish Colonel, Horatio and the other lieutenants prepare to fire on the Spanish ships. Meanwhile, Hobbs tries to free Captain Sawyer, but failed. Hobbs then confronts Midshipman Wellard and accuses him of pushing Captain Sawyer down the hold.

Back at Kingston, Captain Hammond questions Hornblower and calls him an opportunist for some of his tactics, such as with the cannons.

As Buckland continues to stall the Spanish Colonel and his wife, Midshipman Wellard is riding up a gun to the top of a cliff, when the rope starts to rip, so Horatio rescues him, using a hangman's noose as a life line. Just as the Spanish Colonel is questioning the location of the other lieutenants, they begin to open fire on the Spanish ships. Witnessing the firing from the HMS Renown, Colonel Ortega surrenders his ships as prizes of war and makes him and his wife prisoners of war. As the Spanish are surrendering, the rebel slaves attack the fort. So Bush orders the gun spiked and a retreat. An ill Captain Sawyer begins to sing Farewell and Adieu and so Buckland orders Dr. Clive go give him more medicine. While evacuating the Spanish, now prisoners of war, Buckland orders Horatio to lay the charge in blowing up the fort. Despite orders, Bush and Archie join Horatio in blowing up the fort. While some believe all three are dead, Horatio, Archie, and Bush survive the explosion and are welcomed back on board the HMS Renown. Buckland then asks Horatio to take command of the Spanish ships.

Back in Kingston, the tribunal congratulates Lieutenant Buckland on the Spanish surrender, but then question him about the rebel slaves he encountered, his relationship with Lieutenant Hornblower, on the destruction of the fort.

As the HMS Renown and the Spanish ships are on route to Kingston, Hobbs tries to get Captain Sawyer to remember the event to try to find out if someone pushed him. Later that night, the Spanish escape the hold and try to take the HMS Renown, but fail trying. During the battle, Captain Sawyer and Midshipman Wellard are killed and Lieutenants Bush and Kennedy are injured. Colonel Ortega is also killed in the fight and after his death, the other Spanish prisoners surrender again. As Captain Sawyer dies, Horatio says to Hobbs, I'm sorry that his last command was taken from him, but he was a leader of men and he died in battle."

As the court martial continues, the tribunal insults Buckland for being tied up in his cabin during the battle, in which Buckland rashly stating his opinion that Captain Sawyer was mentally unfit to command the HMS Renown because Horatio pushed down into the hold, but has no one to back his claim. So Buckland calls on Hobbs to back his statement, but Hobbs only quotes Horatio, saying "My Captain was a leader of men and he died in battle" and also states he cannot tell who pushed the captain. In another recess, Commodore Pellew states to Captain Hammond and Captain Collins that instead of hanging Horatio, they should promote him. Later, to save Horatio, a still injured Kennedy admits to the tribunal that he pushed Captain Sawyer down the hold and later dies from his wound, but had the chance to say goodbye to Horatio. Despite Horatio's grieving for the loss of his dear friend, Lieutenant Archie Kennedy, Commodore Pellew tells him that one of the Spanish ships has been renamed the HMS Retribution and that Horatio has been promoted to commander and is the new captain of the HMS Retribution.

Loyalty (US title: "Horatio Hornblower 3)
(Released: 5 January 2003)

Ioan Gruffudd as Commander Horatio Hornblower Robert Lindsay as Admiral Pellew
Paul McGann as 1st Lieutenant William Bush Paul Copley as Matthews, Boatswain
Sean Gilder as Styles, Steward Lorcan Cranitch as Wolfe
Ian McElhinney as Captain Hammond Greg Wise as Major Côtard
Tony Haygarth as Master Prowse Julia Sawalha as Maria Mason
Barbara Flynn as Mrs. Mason Christian Coulson as Midshipman Jack Hammond
Ron Cook as Steward James Doughty Jonathan Forbes as Midshipman Charles Orrock
Jim McManus as Pawnbroker John Sheahan as Irishman
Neil Conrich as Bailiff Simon Delaney as French Midshipman

The film starts out in 1803 in Cape Clear, Ireland, where the HMS Retribution, commanded by Commander Hornblower, has retaken the HMS Hotspur from the French. Amongst the French is a rebellious Irishman, who served onboard the HMS Victory. Near the end of the fighting, Matthews and Styles spot a cutter sailing towards the HMS Hotspur, with news that the war with France is over. The peace lasts a year and the sailors and officers of the Royal Navy languish on half pay, unaware the French leader Napoleon is making plans across the channel.

In 1803 Portsmouth, Horatio has been demoted to lieutenant and without a ship during the peace. He reunites with Lieutenant Bush, also without a ship, and takes him to the inn he's staying in, only to rudely greeted by Mrs. Mason, the Lady of the House, who reveals Horatio owes 15 shillings in unpaid rent. It is also shown the innkeeper's daughter, Maria, has a relationship with Horatio. Later that night, Horatio and Bush meet at the pub with Admiral Pellew and pay a game of cards with Captain Hammond and his nephew Jack Hammond. Horatio's winning from the game are enough to pay back his debt to the Masons and a week's notice as well.

Horatio is then called to Admiral Pellew's ship the next day, where he informs Horatio that his promotion to commander has been confirmed and he has been given command of the HMS Hotspur. He also tells Horatio the HMS Hotspur must be ready to sail in two days, as he's been given a mission to Brest, France to spy on Napoleon and the French, as well as escort a Major Côtard to France, as he must speak with an old friend , the Duke of Montroc, urgently and with getting unwanted attention from the French, akin them believe the British have violated the peace treaty.

Back on land, Horatio makes Bush his 1st Lieutenant, who hires a crew. including Matthews and Styles. Styles is given the job as Horatio's steward as he said he worked 3 months in a kitchen, but didn't mention it was a prison kitchen and for free, much to Lieutenant Bush's disappointment. Jack Hammond is assigned to the HMS Hotspur as a Midshipman, along with Charles Orrock. Before leaving, Maria comes to the docks to see Horatio off. She gives him a pair of hand-made gloves to remember her by. After an incident in which someone left the stove doors wide open and hot coals lit the kitchen on fire, Styles is flogged and imprisoned.

Offshore in Brest, France, the HMS Hotspur spots a new semaphore reporting their presence and a French frigate, which solutes the Hotspur, but no sign of the Major's contact. Wondering what Napoleon is doing on the coast, Horatio and Major Côtard investigate, disguised as fishermen, and discovers a French invasion force encamped off the coast. They are then spotted by French soldiers and are forced to flee. The French frigate returns and this time to fight, but the HMS Hotspur out smarts it and takes out the main mast before returning to England to warn Admiral Pellew of the French invasion force.

Back in Portsmouth, Admiral Pellew is angry at Horatio for engaging the French frigate, but agrees he made the right choice. Horatio then tells the Admiral he believes the French may have agents within the British ranks, as the British do in France. Horatio is then given permission from Admiral Pellew to visit Maria, but when he arrives at their inn, he discovers the Masons are bankrupt and in jail. As Maria was a friend when Horatio need one, Horatio gives the Masons money and learns Mr. Mason was killed in the British Army and as such, Mrs. Mason doesn't want her daughter to suffer as she has.

Back across the channel in Brest, France, the British Fleet arrives and Admiral Pellew, Captain Hammond, and Commander Hornblower make plans to attack the French fort, based on Horatio's report. He states the French fleet is anchored in the outer harbor and the entrance in protected by a French battery. All their movements are immediately reported by the semaphore and Napoleon has 50,000 troops ready to depart at a moments notice and depending on the weather, the French can cross the channel in two days. Admiral Pellew plans to launch a preemptive strike on the French fleet, as without the fleet there can't be an invasion. Horatio tells the Admiral they'll need to do something about the semaphore and the battery before they launch any attack on the fleet and volunteers the HMS Hotspur for the job, much to Captain Hammond's dislike. Admiral Pellew decides Horatio will attack the semaphore and signal his success with a blue rocket while Captain Hammond leads a party of marines to take the battery and signal his success with two red rockets.

As Horatio takes the semaphore, he learns Wolfe, one of his crew, is missing and French troops are on their way, so he uses his rocket to blow up the semaphore and tries to get to the beach, but is captured by the French. Wolfe is revealed to be the commander of the French forces and a traitor, doing it all for to free Ireland from worse tyrants than Bonaparte. However, Wolfe reveals that his mission was only to delay the HMS Hotspur, revealing he left the stove doors open that got Styles flogged, so it would encounter the French frigate and that he has a high ranked officer placed in the fleet, who is also a traitor, doing it for Ireland, with a bigger role to play.

Hammond's party lands, only to be greeted by Wolfe and his French troops and Hammond is forced to surrender. Meanwhile, Matthews suggests to Acting Captain Bush they should go get Horatio, despite orders by Admiral Pellew and confronts Midshipman Hammond for being a coward and letting down Horatio. Horatio and the men captured with him breakout and find a way out, but are too late to stop Wolfe from firing Hammond's signal, telling the fleet the battery has been taken and is clear to attack the French fleet. As Admiral Pellew and the British fleet are shot at by the battery, Horatio decides to help by attacking the battery himself. He is able to disarm the cannons, but by then, Admiral Pellew orders the fleet to withdraw from the battery. Wolfe realizes what has happened and orders his men back to the battery, but by then, Horatio blows up the battery and Admiral Pellew take back his previous order and attacks.

Horatio and his men escape the battery before it blows and reencounter Wolfe and Captain Hammond, who is revealed to be the other Irish traitor. Hammond tells Wolfe to kill Horatio and his men, despite the fact Styles and Midshipman Orrock are both Irish. Before the French fire on Horatio and his men, Bush arrives with reinforcements. A battle occurs and amongst the dead is Midshipman Jack Hammond, but Wolfe gets away. Captain Hammond is so full of grief and guilty he commits suicide after. Back with the fleet, Horatio choose to say in his report Captain Hammond died heroically and honorably for England, instead that he was an Irish traitor as more an a quarter of the Royal Navy are Irish and he doesn't want any further Irish traitors for Napoleon to use against England. While Admiral Pellew states this gives England the right to demand Irish loyalty, Horatio states that it is better to earn loyalty than demand it, in which Admiral Pellew quotes 1 Corinthians 13:11, which Horatio doesn't understand yet.

Back in Portsmouth, Horatio visits the Masons, who have reclaimed their inn and Maria about to become a governess. Horatio has an argument with Maria and as Horatio is about to leave, Mrs. Mason tells him Maria wept for Horatio while he was gone. Horatio then goes back to Maria and asks her to marry him. Maria says yes.

(Released: 6 January 2003)

Ioan Gruffudd as Commander/Captain Horatio Hornblower Robert Lindsay as Admiral/Admiral of the Fleet Pellew
Paul McGann as 1st Lieutenant William Bush Paul Copley as Matthews, Boatswain
Sean Gilder as Styles, Steward Lorcan Cranitch as Wolfe
Tony Haygarth as Master Prowse Julia Sawalha as Maria Mason Hornblower
Barbara Flynn as Mrs. Mason Ron Cook as Steward James Doughty
Jonathan Forbes as Midshipman Charles Orrock Jonathan Coy as Captain Bracegirdle
Jim Carter as Etheridge David Birkin as Jérôme
Camilla Power as Betsy Timothy Deenihan as Maguire
Richard Syms as Parson

The film starts with the wedding of Commander Horatio Hornblower, captain of the HMS Hotspur, and Maria Mason. 1st Lieutenant Bush is Horatio's best man and despite not being invited, Matthews, Styles, and the rest of the crew of the HMS Hotspur make their captain a saber arch and man-haul the Hornblowers to the reception. However, Admiral Pellew arrives and gives Horatio his next mission: the HMS Grasshopper, commanded by old friend Captain Bracegirdle, has gone missing while on patrol off the coast of France. Horatio's mission is to find the HMS Grasshopper. He also gives Horatio permission to sleep onshore with his wife Maria for the night.

The next day, Horatio says goodbye to his wife and sets sail. As a wedding gift, Admiral Pellew gives Horatio his steward, James Doughty, who replaces Styles. On a stormy night, the HMS Hotspur comes across Americans and a man claiming to be Swiss on their way to France. Because the man speaks with a strong French accent, most of the crew, Horatio included, don't believe he is Swiss. One of the Americans says they saw a ship get stranded.

The HMS Hotspur finds the HMS Grasshopper grounded and most of the crew killed in the storm. Those who survived were killed protecting their captain from French troops. As Horatio and his men are attacked by the same French troops, they find Captain Bracegirdle. As the HMS Hotspur sails away, it is revealed Wolfe, from the last film, is leading the French troops. Meanwhile, back in England, Admiral Pellew is confronted by the diplomatic service, with orders from the Admiralty to find a young couple lost at sea; one the daughter of a wealthy American merchant and the other a Frenchman. On board the HMS Hotspur, the French, led by Wolfe and with the help of one of the Americans, try to take the HMS Hotspur, but fail and Wolfe escapes again. After the attack, it is revealed the "Swiss" man is both French and Jérôme-Napoléon Bonaparte, the younger brother of Napoleon himself.

With Jérôme as his prisoner, Bracegirdle suggests Horatio return to England, but Horatio chooses to continue with an investigation of the French activities in the area. Back in England, Admiral Pellew continues his conference with the Diplomatic Service, who finally tells him the French husband is Napoleon's brother and that with the help of French contacts, Jérôme is on the HMS Hotspur. Back on the Hotspur, Horatio issues a two-hour investigation and gives Midshipman Orrock orders that if they do not return in time to sail back to England with their prisoners. As prisoners now, they are given no special treatment while the crew, Styles included, performs "Yankee Doodle" as an insult.

Onshore, Horatio discovers the French are removing cannons from their own ships for reasons unknown. Bracegirdle goes off for more time and is seen by a Frenchman. As he is on his way back to the HMS Hotspur, the French fire on the lifeboat and blow it up, killing everyone on board. When the French began to fire exploding cannonballs on the HMS Hotspur, Horatio puts out the fuse, ruining the gloves Maria made him in the process.

Horatio then returns to England and immediately reports to Admiral Pellew. Horatio tells him of Captain Bracegirdle's death, but more importantly he requests permission to return to further investigate Wolfe's activities in France. The Admiral then tells Horatio that the Diplomatic Service has quarantined the HMS Hotspur; no one leaves and no one boards, Captain included. Horatio takes the time to visit his wife, who finds his gloves and learns what happens to them in a newspaper article. Horatio then tries to explain it was nothing and accidentally yells at Maria about it, making her cry. Mrs. Mason then asks Horatio if while he thinks more about his ship, if he could also think about his wife.

The Diplomatic Service then informs Admiral Pellew and Commander Hornblower that they are to return Jérôme to France while his wife Betsy is to be sent home to America to be with her father, by orders of Napoleon. While Jérôme is being returned to France, Admiral Pellew also orders Horatio to continue his investigation. As it may be their last meal together, Horatio orders the Steward to make them a special meal. As Doughty is on his way to delivery it, he learns Styles placed a dead rat in it, which leads Doughty to fight with Styles. During the fight, Doughty accidentally strikes Midshipman Orrock, which according the Articles of War is an offence worth a court martial and punishable by death.

Once in France, Horatio wakes Jérôme and sends him ashore without his wife, who he tells is to be send back to America, much to Jérôme's dislike. When Betsy learns her husband has left her, she tells Horatio she hopes the French kill him. The next day, Horatio and Bush return ashore and find Wolfe and his men on the move. They also discover the reason for the removed cannons: With 200,000 French troops in Brest, the British fleet has blockaded the area, leaving the back door unguarded. So Wolfe and 3,000 French troops will invade Ireland, then England. Despite fog and ice, Horatio orders the HMS Hotspur to sail inland. Using the same sign as the French, Horatio tries to trick them into believing the HMS Hotspur is part of the French fleet and succeeds, then attacks. As the other ships hit land and crash, Wolfe is swung onto the HMS Hotspur, where he is shot by Bush and the marines before he can shoot Horatio.

On Christmas Day, the USS Liberty has come to take Betsy back to America. Horatio alas chooses to spare Doughty by having him go to the USS Liberty as well. As Betsy rudely says goodbye to Horatio, Doughty jumps overboard. Shortly after, Horatio is informed by the Diplomatic Service Napoleon has ordered his brother's marriage terminated. After the Diplomatic Service leaves, Admiral Pellew informs Horatio that they have both been promoted: Admiral Pellew to Admiral of the Fleet and Horatio to captain. Horatio then returns to his wife Maria, who tells him that she is with child.


Captain Pellew's ship, HMS Indefatigable, is represented by the Grand Turk, a modern replica of the frigate HMS Blandford built in 1741. To represent Hornblower's ship, HMS Hotspur, the Earl of Pembroke, a civilian ship, underwent some conversion. The Baltic trading schooner Julia and the brig Phoenix of Dell Quay were used to represent the smaller vessels. No real 74-gun ship existed any longer at the time of production (the last one, HMS Implacable, was scuttled in 1949), so HMS Justinian and HMS Renown had to be recreated as models. For the first series a quarter of a 74-gun ship (one exterior side and three open sides to shoot live action on several decks) called the pontoon was built. Later live action on the quarterdeck or the gundeck below was shot on the actual HMS Victory. Eleven scale models, ranging from 4.5 to 7 m in length, were used for the battle scenes, the largest weighing 1400 kg, and made with working rigging and cannons that were fired by remote control. Shooting locations included the Black Sea, the Livadia Palace, Portugal, and the former administration (Melville) building of the Royal William Yard and the Barbican, Plymouth in England.


Ioan Gruffudd had shown interest in participating in more Hornblower films. In 2007, he reportedly discussed the possibility of a big-screen version of Hornblower, and was attempting to gain the rights to the books by C. S. Forester. He was quoted as saying "A&E decided that since it's such an expensive venture to make these movies for television, they're not going to make any more at this point. So it's down to me, I think, to try to bring it back to life."

Sources: for the cast listings to above
poster image: same
movie: DAV FL 70 Webmaster private collection

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