JANE AUSTEN MOVIE CLUB: Horatio Hornblower #1

Welcome to the January 2009 meeting of the Risky Regencies JANE AUSTEN MOVIE CLUB!

This is where we meet on the first Tuesday of every month to discuss adaptations of Jane Austen’s works, and other Regency-interest film and TV productions.

(For info about what we’ll discuss next, or to participate in any of our other discussions, just see the previous post!)

Today’s discussion will be on the first installment of the ITV/A&E Horatio Hornblower series, which stars Ioan Gruffudd and Robert Lindsay.

Oh, and sorry about the awkward “#1” in the title of the post — but as the first installment is called HORATIO HORNBLOWER: THE DUEL in the US, and HORNBLOWER: THE EVEN CHANCE in the UK, I was afraid that adding even half of that to the title would lead to Blogger meltdown and imminent nuclear war.

By the way, the fantastic screen captures shown here — all from this episode — are courtesy of the very neat website twoevilmonks.org. They have a useful and hilarious summary of the plot of THE DUEL/EVEN CHANCE, including these and more great pictures, which is well worth checking out.

To aid the discussion, here are some of the
major credits, with “you’ve seen him before here”
tidbits in green:

Ioan Gruffudd — Horatio Hornblower

Gruffudd starred as Wilberforce in the recent film Amazing Grace.

Robert Lindsay — Captain Sir Edward Pellew

Michael Byrne — Capt. Keene

You may recognize Byrne as Major Nairn in the Sharpe series.

Jamie Bamber — Midshipman Archie Kennedy

Before he starred in Battlestar Galactica, Bamber played Lord Tony in the Richard E. Grant-starring Scarlet Pimpernel.

Dorian Healy — Midshipman Jack Simpson

Paul Copley — Matthews

Simon Sherlock — Oldroyd

Sean Gilder — Styles

DIRECTOR: Andrew Grieve

SCREENPLAY: Russell Lewis
(Based on the C.S. Forester stories “Hornblower and the Even Chance,” “Hornblower and the Cargo of Rice,” and “Hornblower and the Man who Felt Queer.”)

So…what did you think?

Did you like this Hornblower?

What do you think of the cast?

The script?

The special effects?

If you’ve read any of Forester, what do you think of the interpretation?

If you’ve seen the film MASTER AND COMMANDER, how do you think the two differ?

All answers welcome!

(And be sure to come back
on the first Tuesday of next month,
when we’ll be discussing

Cara King, who prefers tea to rum, and bagels to ship’s biscuit

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13 years ago

I’m a big fan of ‘movie’ Hornblower. First up, Ioan Gruffudd is pretty.

And while I devoured Forester’s books, his Hornblower, though a genius at sea, is not always a very likeable character. I think the movie version kept enough of the stiffness to give him character flaws, but also allowed Hornblower to relax a bit with friends – Kennedy was an inspired addition, in my opinion.

Plus I like watching the ships, and the action on-screen. I haven’t seen these in a bit – I think it’s time to watch again!

13 years ago

Loved it!

One of my favorite moments: when Horatio sights the French ship in the fog and uses his “captain’s voice” for the first time.

One interesting difference with M&C: wardrobe. I seem to recall being impressed by the M&C uniforms. They looked authentically heavy (would they have been wool?) but also rubbed-down and grimy. In Horatio, they look kind of thin and bright-polyester-colored.

Ink Mage
13 years ago

I looove the Hornblower series, and the first one is definitely one of my favorites. Horatio grows so much, works hard to earn the loyalty of his division, and of course the plot is excellent.
Before my sister and I watched it the first time, she was reluctant, saying, “What kind of a name is Horatio Hornblower?” but then we ended up watching the first two movies in the same evening just because we couldn’t wait to see how things turned out.

The cast is great! I can’t think of anyone who would play any of the roles better.

The script is good, too; it’s somewhat witty (with Horatio’s snappy replies) without being unbelievable, and it manages to explain what maneuvers are being executed and why so that the audience understands what’s going. And from what I can tell with my slight knowledge of the Royal Navy during the time and my growing sailing experience, it’s actually pretty accurate.

Watching the movies was what inspired me to read all twelve novels of the Hornblower saga. I guess seeing the original Horatio from the books was kind of hard for me after seeing the Horatio of the movies. I agree completely with Lana about the character differences and grew kind of attached to the movie one, so I’m not sure what my original opinion would have been. I think the adaptation is very good, but it is different. The main thing I remember disliking about the books was the long descriptions of battle scenes and the lack of focus on any character but Horatio (until Bush comes along, anyway). The movies bring out much more in the stories; you really care if someone dies or is hurt, unlike in the books where you’d think, “That guy named Bracegirdle died, oh well” or whatever.

Personally I did not like Master and Commander; the only ways it topped the Hornblower movies was in special effects (you have to admit, the ships plunging and heaving among gargantuan waves was pretty amazing) and in costumes, which I thought looked more rough and sturdy than in Hornblower.
But aside from that, Master and Commander was boring. There was almost no character development because we only saw very brief glimpses of the crew’s–or even Jack’s, for that matter–lives and it didn’t follow any one plot long enough to make me care about anything that went on.

After posting probably the longest comment I’ve ever written, I think I’m done. 🙂

Julia Justiss
Julia Justiss
13 years ago

Loved both movies and all the Hornblower ones. Of course, there are so few period movies made that I’m a sucker for them unless they are demonstrably horrid. Haven’t taken the time to read the Hornblower originals (I would probably like the long boring battle scenes) but definitely like the way the series makes us care about many of the characters, not just Hornblower.

My only quibble is that the female characters are without exception pretty brainless and uninspired. The French schoolmistress Horatio befriends in a later episode is the best of the bunch but the wife Horatio ends up with is awful.

The Hornblower films are supposedly incredibly expense to produce, but despite the lame female characters–which I am blaming on Forrester, another reason I’m reluctant to tackle the books–I’m hoping a few more make it to the screen.

Keira Soleore
13 years ago

ADORE Ioan Gruffud. But I’m a doofus. I scanned the area Blockbusters and harassed the Netflix folks to scare up The Duel DVD/video. But no luck. When it finally dawned on me that the local public library might have a copy, I rushed over there to find that there were two holds on it. Phooey! So I’m going to be reading your comments today, with nothing to contribute, till my library comes due in a couple months.

Ammanda, did you see any ships in Jamestown that came close to the ones featured in this episode?

Cara, the ship’s biscuit is for keeping your teeth sharp and exercised…to undo effects from scurvy. 🙂 The rum’s to make maggoty meat and weavils in bread palatable. Tea would do nothing there. So if you plan on taking up seafaring ways, I’d suggest a change in dietary preferences.

Cara King
13 years ago

Thanks for sharing your take on it, Lana! I haven’t read enough of Forester’s books myself to have much of an opinion of his version of Hornblower, I confess — though rewatching The Duel/Even Chance last night may inspire me to change that!

Greta, interesting point about the wardrobe. I rewatched Master and Commander quite recently, but I think I noticed differences between the ship and ocean effects more than the costumes (Weir clearly had a much larger budget!)

Thanks for your in-depth comment, Ink Mage! I agree with you on how things were nicely explained in the Hornblower adaptations… I actually commented to Todd during one break that, when Pellew tells Hornblower that his previous captain (Keane) WAS indeed to blame for what had gone one on his ship, it was (1) showing us Pellew’s character, (2) furthering the plot, and also (3) giving the viewer essential info about the period and navy life… Very nicely written.

Julia, I suppose then that one asset of the first Hornblower movie is that there are almost no women in it! 😉

Keira, I promise you, if I ever get impressed into the British navy, I will definitely take up drinking rum… And when you do finally get your hands on The Duel, I look forward to hearing your opinions!


Megan Frampton
13 years ago

Cara, I am lucky enough to have the entire set on DVD, a gift my uncle gave to my dad that I then got.

Only to find, when I went to watch the Duel, that the first DVD is missing. D’oh! I did see it, a long time ago, and remember being impressed with the character growth and Gruffudd’s prettiness. I did love Master and Commander, I thought it was somehow deeper than the first epi I saw, but perhaps that’s not fair because the character growth happens in two hours versus a whole miniseries. I will be watching epi 2, however, which I do have, soon.

Thanks for hosting the club.

Deb Marlowe
13 years ago

Hi Riskies!

Back from a long family trip, just in time for Hornblower!

I read the books long ago, I know I was excited about the amount of detail about naval life, but I can’t remember enough to compare and contrast with the movie versions! I did enjoy them at the time and was excited when the movies came out. Ioan is definitely stuck in my head as Horatio now.

I’m with Julia on the lack of substantial females, my favorite is the “Duchess” who comes in one of the later movies, doesn’t she?

Hope you all had great holidays!

Cara King
13 years ago

Hope your holidays were great, too, Deb!

Megan, bummer about the disc not being there!

Okay, my take on it:

I really liked this flick, and all the other installments that I’ve seen. I think the writing was excellent (after seeing it the first time, I read Mr. Midshipman H, which is a bunch of unrelated stories, so I could see how much work the writer must have done to try to link them together!)

I did at times wish the effects were better…IMHO when Horatio fell off the rigging, it looked rather cheesy…and later, when he was in the water, it looked very shallow and non-ocean-like…

And on occasion I missed Russell Crowe’s Aubrey…he always seemed to have so much fun! Whereas few of these folks were very jolly.

But minor quibbles aside, I did really enjoy this. I liked the casting, and the ships, and everything, pretty much!

Oh, and I was very excited when I first realized Robert Lindsay was in this. I’m a big big fan of the revival of Me And My Girl (which he starred in), and then later of Bert Rigby, You’re a Fool (which IIRC the critics and audiences didn’t care for, but I loved.)


Janet Mullany
13 years ago

I have fond teenage memories of being tremendously turned on by the Hornblower books, and they’re not particularly sexy so I suppose it didn’t take much then!

Ioan Gruffudd is ridiculously pretty!

Diane Gaston
13 years ago

I saw the HH movie a while ago; Master and Commander, too.
I actually read a couple of the Hornblower books.

I remember enjoying the Hornblower movie. Ioan Gruffudd had just the right look of young innocence and I loved the story.
There was a lot I loved about Master and Commander, but I’m with Ink Mage, I think there wasn’t much character growth or much story.

Elena Greene
13 years ago

I enjoyed this very much but can’t compare to the books. I only read the first one, and that was a few years ago.

Ioan Gruffudd (it’s even hard to spell!) is hot no matter how you pronounce his name. Though he has such an angular face and longish nose so I wouldn’t call him pretty. IMHO Bamber as Kennedy is prettier. I still prefer Gruffud’s long face and those intense eyes.

13 years ago

I like this series quite a bit–I think that, while making allowances for the needs of television, they mostly stay fairly true to the spirit of the books; and within the limits of a television budget, they did a pretty good job on the technical stuff. (It’s really hard to do good cannon fire, and even harder to show multiple ships in combat. IIRC, they used miniatures for the battle scenes.)

I also like Ioan Gruffudd quite a bit–he is very likeable and believable. I had read Mr. Midshipman Hornblower before seeing the movie the first time, and it was interesting to see how they stitched and altered the different short stories in that collection together to make a connected plot. In some ways the result was more melodramatic than the original, but in some ways less–in the short story, the duel ends up effectively being a form of Russian Roulette (each choosing a pistol at random and firing at point blank range with only one pistol loaded!).

I agree with Lana that Gruffudd’s Hornblower is in some ways more likeable than the written one, who is brilliant but also flawed–particularly in his dealings with the opposite sex, but also in his deep frustration with his own failings and his inability to either court recognition or receive it with comfort.

As much as I like this series, though, I can’t compare it to Master and Commander, which for me is a sublime piece of filmmaking. But it would be expecting a lot to match on a television budget (even a large one) the kind of detail, cinematography, and special effects that can be done in a big budget feature film. Given the resources they had, I think they did a really good job. (And as far as lame female characters go, M&C didn’t have a single speaking role for a female!)

I still haven’t watched the last few movies of the series, but my darling wife bought the whole series for me on DVD a couple of Christmases ago, so I’m sure we will get around to it eventually!


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