Tag Archives: CS Forester

Hornblower:The Wrong War (aka Frogs and the Lobsters)

The Wrong WarReview: Hornblower:The Wrong War (aka The Frogs & Lobsters)
100 min

This episode is based on The Frogs & Lobsters from the CS Forester novel Midshipman Hornblower. The story is based upon an actual historical event, The Battle of Quiberon (1795), in which French émigré forces landed in France with British assistance to fight the republican forces.

The British are assisting French émigré troops in attempting to overthrow the French Republic. Hornblower is tasked with accompanying Colonel Moncoutant, the Marquis of Muzillac, ashore and with blowing up a bridge. A unit of the 95th commanded by Major Lord Edrington is also accompanying them. However Republican forces overwhelm General Charette in the north and eventually head south to Muzillac forcing Hornblower and Edrington to retreat back to shore and the safety of Indefatigable.

Captain Pellew receives orders from Admiral Hood to take General Charette and his émigré troops to France where they will seek to overthrow the French Republic. Despite the fact that a copy of the plans has been stolen likely by French agents, Hood orders Pellew to proceed and forbids him from telling Charette about the theft. Pellew does not believe it has much chance of success and worries about the human cost. Hood simply says they will count up the cost later at leisure.

The 95th of Foot under command of Major Lord Edrington arrives accompanying a unit of French royalist troops. The French troops do not look as crisp and ready for battle as the 95th. The French troops that are going Muzillac which Hornblower is accompanying, is commanded by Colonel Moncoutant, the Marquis of Muzillac. He is also brings a guillotine to use when he arrives. Moncoutant appears pleasant enough but the guillotine is a foreshadowing of what is to come later. After arriving in France, Hornblower and his men take charge of a bridge and mine it with explosives. Meanwhile the former lord of Muzillac returns and is welcomed by its new mayor, a former linen merchant. Moncoutant does not accept his authority and tours his former home with the mayor, Hornblower, and Edrington. It is in a shambles and it enrages Moncoutant to see many of his prized belongings turned into kindling for fire. He later executes the mayor when he refuses to raise the old French flag and almost kills a young boy for singing the revolutionary song. He is stopped by Hornblower.

Moncoutant erects the guillotine and begins executing citizens, which sickens Hornblower. At dinner latter that night with Moncoutant and Edrington, Moncoutant offends Hornblower with his views on humanity. Hornblower takes offense and reminds him the common British sailor brought him over to France. Moncoutant teases him that he sounds like a republican. Hornblower leaves the dinner and meets the young woman who was serving the meal. She was the teacher before Moncountant closed the school down and was next to the boy who sang La Marseillaise that Hornblower saved earlier in the day. He escorts her home (the school) and stays with her to prevent French troops from entering (there is one attempt).

The next day brings signs of possible attack at the bridge and to the British troops nearby but it turns out to be a feint. Hornblower discovers wagon tracks indicating heavy laden carts had passed through with cannon. This is later confirmed by the school teacher. Up north where the main force landed, they have come under intense artillery attack and General Charette is killed. Master Bowles escapes dressed as a French Republican soldier and heads south. However the Indefatigable is becalmed requiring using a longboat to tow it back to the area where Hornblower landed. The ominous sound of cannon fire indicates to Pellew that Charette has fallen under attack by republican forces.

As troops start heading south, Moncoutant is too busy executing to listen to Hornblower’s warnings. Both he and Edrington realize they are on their own and prepare to withdraw hoping the Indefatigable will be there. Hornblower brings the school teacher with him since she was seen with him (and likely would be ill-treated as a result). However her ankle is injured while fleeing and she is killed on the bridge by republican troops. The bridge is blown up but Hornblower is in despair. The remaining French royalist troops with the British flee. Moncoutant does put up a defense of Muzillac but it is overwhelemed and is captured. He is then executed by guillotine as he shouts “Vive La Roi!”

On the beach they make a final stand against the oncoming French troops. Thankfully the Indefatigable shows up and scares them away with its cannon. All evacuate and Pellew meets with Hornblower. Hornblower is filled with grief over the death of the woman and the failure of the mission. He says they were not wanted. While he never says it, Pellew agrees. But he also points out that no matter what happens to them, they must be leaders and not crews see their grief.

Deviations from book
1. Hornblower was still midshipman as his promotion does not occur until the end of Duchess and the Devil.
2. Major Edrington was a major in 43rd Regiment of Foot, not 95th.
3. There was no female teacher that Hornblower became acquainted with. Nor did he have dinner with Colonel Moncoutant.
4. The fates of Charette or Moncoutant are not depicted.
5. Indefatigable was already on station so the evacuation was under fire but they were all able to escape but the major’s horse had to be killed as he could not take it with him.

This is my least favorite adaptation from Midshipman Hornblower. This is because it falls into the simplistic trap of making it an antiwar themed episode which was not the point of the original story. From the beginning it is a cynical ploy to use French loyalist troops to put pressure on the revolutionary government in Paris. Pellew thinks the idea is foolish but Hood commits the British to the plan. Worse when a copy of the plan is stolen by French agents, Hood chooses not to inform Charette and orders Pellew to not speak of it either. Pellew is uncomfortable with the plan knowing it will likely fail. Hood seems unconcerned with the potential loss of life and says we can count costs at “our leisure.”

The British troops are shown as ordered, neat, efficient and well drilled. The French look shabby by comparison and obviously have not been well drilled for a while. While General Charette is a courteous gentleman, his second in command Colonel and Marquis of Muzillac Moncountant, is a façade. He is the stereotypical French aristocrat: aloof, dismissive of those beneath him, cruel and vain. He brings the guillotine with him to dispense justice but it is clear it is about vengeance. As soon as he arrives to secure Muzillac and finds his home ravaged, he kills the mayor for failing to fly the old French flag and nearly kills a small child who is singing La Marseillais. He closes down the school and puts the teacher to work in his kitchen. As he rails against the low born, Hornblower reminds him it was the common sailor that brought him over to France.

In the book, Hornblower was shocked by the executions he witnessed and that the polished French officers ordered them. But that was not the only shock he witnessed. On the way into Muzillac he saw French soldiers bringing fresh horses from farms. He also heard musket shots indicating they were probably shooting anyone who did not give them what they wanted. And a empty plough with a body next to it confirmed what was going on and that no one seemed to care. Now what he saw was not unusual for the time. Invading soldiers would often do just that and worse when they sacked towns and villages. Hornblower being at sea would rarely, if ever, see such things. So his shock is understandable.

The loss of the girl, who was not in the book, adds more to Hornblower’s despair at the invasion he thinks was wrong. He utters they were not wanted to Captain Pellew. Pellew agrees with him though he does not say it. And we are left in the end with the idea the whole affair was a way to get rid of some noisy French royals by sending them back to France to be killed. And killed they were because in the real invasion of 1795, it failed. A combination of scattered troops and divisions amongst the leaders caused the attempted rebellion to be crushed. 5,000 died in combat, 6,332 captured. Most of the captured officers and nobles were executed. It ended any attempt for royalist insurrection until the fall of Napoleon.

While I disagree with the scriptwriter’s interpretation of the story, the acting is very good.I think the actor who got the best lines was Major Lord Edrington (Samuel West). He came across as cool and confident in command. He respected Hornblower but also had a dry sense of humor about him. Moncontant was played by Antony Sher who played the unpleasant fellow well. He knew how to make him sound noble and pleasant on one hand, and then quite comfortably order executions with the other. Pellew (Robert Lindsey) had a difficult role of having to hide his misgivings about the expedition to his fellow officers and Charette.

I wish this had been a straight forward telling of a forlorn attempt to invade France in 1795 and Hornblower’s small part of it. Making it into a antiwar themed episode was the wrong approach. Sadly it begins a trend in future dramatizations of rewriting entire books to suit the scriptwriter.

Historical Notes
1. The Battle of Quiberon (1795) began on 23 June 1795 and was over on 21 July 1795. Though several ships were depicted, the actual Royal Navy ships participating were two squadrons of 9 warships, 60 troop transports that carried 3,500 carrying the French and British troops. The British sent men from the 90th of Foot, 19th of Foot, and 27th of Foot along with supplies for 40,000. Admirals Hood and Warren led the expedition. Warren encountered French resistance along the way but repelled it.

2. In the book, Edrington commands a unit of the 43 Foot. This regiment, formed in 1741, saw action in North America first in the French and Indian War and then the American War for Independence. For television it is now the 95th of Foot, which is a rifle regiment and wear the distinctive green jackets. Fans of the Sharpe novels by Bernard Cornwall and television series probably wondered why this happened. I suspect they probably wanted to toss a nod to the Sharpe novels but there is some credence to tying it into the 95th. In 1803 the 43rd with the 52nd and 95th became the Corps of Light Infantry under Sir John Moore. The unit itself was redesignated as the 43rd (Monmouthshire)Light Infantry. However at the time this story is taking place (1795), the 95th did not exist.

3. General François de Charette was never in England but helped plan the invasion. He was loyal to the old order unlike others who wanted a constitutional monarchy. He did not die at Quiberon and escaped. He was eventually captured, put on trial in Nantes, and executed by firing squad.

4. The character of Admiral Hood is based on Admiral Alexander Hood, 1st Viscount Bridport. From 1795-1800, he was commander of the channel fleet. And he did participate in the mission as noted already above.

5. The character of Marquis Moncoutant,Lord of Muzillac is fictional. Muzillac is the American equivalent of a township (in France a commune) that is part of an administrative division. It is the lowest level of administrative division. TripAdvisor has information about what to see and stay in or near Muzillac. There is an official site for Muzillac. (Note:The site is in French so you will need to use a translator if you do not read French).

6. Inaccuracy: Captain Pellew quotes a famous line from Rime of the Ancient Mariner: “As idle as a painted ship upon a painted ocean.” Except it was published in 1798 so Captain Pellew would not know of it in 1795.

7. Protocol error: The scene in which Pellew and Hornblower enter a long boat was wrong. Junior officers enter first and the most senior officer last. This allows the senior officer to exit first.

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Hornblower:The Duchess and Devil

Duchess&DevildvdHornblower: The Duchess and The Devil
A&E, 1999
93 minutes

This episode is based on Hornblower and Duchess and The Devil in CS Forester’s Midshipman Hormblower.

Hornblower is taking a captured French ship back to England with Duchess of Wharfedale aboard when Spanish ships appear and he is taken captive. While Midshipman Hunter plots escape, Hornblower helps Midshipman Kennedy recover from neglect. A failed escape attempt by Hunter puts Hornblower in solitary confinement. Later his heroism in saving Spanish sailors gains liberty for himself and his men.

Approximate date: Sometime after August 1, 1796. No exact date given in book or television series.

Acting Lieutenant Horatio Hornblower captures the small French ship Le Reve and returns to Gibraltar. There he is informed he will take the ship back to England. Before that he must attend a important dinner with Sir Hew Dalrymple, the governor of Gibraltar. There he meets her grace, the Duchess of Wharfedale, who is of common birth unlike most ladies married to men with aristocratic titles. She was in Italy when the French arrived and made her way to Gibraltar. It turns out that Hornblower will be taking her back to England on his ship.

During the journey the find themselves not only in fog but surrounded by Spanish ships. They try a ruse by raising the French flag and even putting on French clothing. However the ruse is detected and Hornblower surrenders rather than risk the lives of the crew in a senseless battle with overwhelming odds against them. The Duchess decides to conceal the admiralty dispatches since the Spanish will not search her. After surrendering, they are taken to a nearby prison. The Duchess is also interned nearby awaiting transport out.

In the cell, Hornblower finds Midshipman Kennedy, whose longboat was set adrift by Simpson in The Duel. He looks bad and Hornblower tries to help him. Midshipman Hunter wants to escape but Hornblower orders him to wait until they can all go. But they gather intelligence in the meantime as to how many guards there are and other things. The Duchess is allowed by the commandant to visit Hornblower and walks with her while on parole. Hunter becomes suspicious that Hornblower is not interested in escaping anymore and starts plotting. Kennedy’s health worsens due to Hunter denying him food forcing Hornblower to ask for help. This is done and the Duchess helps out. Kennedy, in delirium, recognizes her and she is forced to admit she is not really the Duchess of Wharfedale but the actress Kitty Cobham. Hornblower is shocked since she is carrying important documents for his government.

Meanwhile a visiting French colonel, while having dinner with Don Masseredo, the Duchess and Hornblower, also recognizes her but does not unmask her in front of the commandant. Instead the Duchess decides to spend a romantic evening with the colonel. Hornblower is nervous but fortunately turns out okay in the end. Not long afterwards, she leaves but convinces the commandant to allow him to learn Spanish using the book Don Quixote and a lexicon. Meanwhile Hunter has decided to make his escape plans and convinces a number of them to join him. Matthews and Styles do not join in but Oldroyd does.

When the escape occurs, Hunter and his group make it out to the main area before being stopped. Hunter is shot but Hornblower pleads for their lives. The commandant wants to know who the plotters were not believing for a second that Hornblower would ever of approve of such an escape plan. Hornblower takes full responsibility and is put in the pit, a cell that does not allow a man to either lie down or stand up. Hunter, who was shot (and wants to die) has to watch from his cell Hornblower taking responsibility for his actions.

Not long after Hornblower is released, he sees a ship being chased by Indefatigable and strikes the nearby reef. The water is treacherous and a storm is raging. Giving parole for both himself and his men, he sets out to save the crew of the ship. The Duchess turns out to be aboard. Midshipman Hunter decides to swim away because of the guilt he has over what happened during the escape. They are rescued by Indefatigable and welcomed aboard. Pellew is not happy that the Duchess had the admiralty documents but also says Hornblower is no longer an acting lieutenant and has been promoted to Lieutenant Hornblower. Pellew asks Hornblower’s crew if they will honor the parole he made to the Spanish. They do and they all return (except the Duchess of course) to shore. Sometime later Hornblower is informed that the First Minister of Spain, in recognition of the heroism to rescue Spanish lives, that he and his men are to be set free. The commandant wonders if they recognize they are letting loose a man who will be a thorn in their sides. Hornblower smiles and tells the commandant he will endeavor to prove them right.

Deviations from book
*Hornblower does attend the dinner but not with Captain Pellew as his ship had not yet returned.
*The ship is captured but they did not attempt raising French colors or wear French uniforms. Hornblower tried evading in the fog but the Spanish frigates closed in and fired when the fog thinned out.
*The duchess admits she is Kitty Cobham aboard ship and does hide the admiralty documents. Also the maid she had is deleted for the television presentation.
*Midshipman Kennedy was not in the cell as in the book he was never cast adrift.
*There is no subplot involving Midshipman Hunter nor an attempted escape.
*His promotion to lieutenant occurs while imprisoned. The commandant informs him of the promotion and puts him in officers quarters and half pay.
*Kitty Cobham/Duchess of Wharfedale is not seen after after the ship is captured. She sends Hornblower a letter that the documents were delivered and wishes all is well with him.
*In the book he was imprisoned for two years but the dramatization makes it likely it was a six months or perhaps just short of a full year.

Of all the adaptations from Midshipman Hornblower, this is my favorite. It takes the story and actually makes it better. The essential story is Hornblower captures a small French ship and is captured taking it back to England with the Duchess of Wharfedale aboard. She secretes important naval documents and ends up home in Britain while Hornblower is imprisoned in Spain. He is only released after he and his crew save Spanish sailors whose ship crashed on the reef nearby. So the writers had to come up with a way to make the story much better and interesting to fill 90 minutes or so of television.

The character of Midshipman Hunter was expanded greatly as a contrast between two junior officers. Hunter was the older midshipman that saw a younger man rise fast and having to take orders from him. While others considered Hornblower lucky, Hunter downplayed or questioned his methods like how he took Le Reve. Hornblower and his men had taken captive the shore party and dressed in their clothes so they could approach the ship and take it by surprise. But Hunter said, in front of Matthews and Styles, that the prize money might be denied if they knew about the ruse Hornblower used. He also thought him less aggressive in wanting to fight the French or in his desire to escape. Hunter further alienated himself with Hornblower through his dismissive attitude to Kennedy and his disobeying orders in the doomed escape attempt.

Bringing back Kennedy was odd though. His character is in some of the early stories but not much beyond that. We last saw him in The Duel where after an epileptic fit he had to be left in a long boat during a raid. Simpson cast his boat adrift and he floated into French hands. The only way he could be in Spain was that he escaped and headed there since it was an ally at that time. Alas probably by the time he made it, Spain was on France’s side and he was imprisoned. At any rate he was in bad shape and likely would have died without Hornblower’s help. Hunter was willing to let him die rather than bring him along.

Kitty Cobham/Duchess of Wharfedale was a clever character. She decided to impersonate the duchess so that she would not be ill-treated And she pulled it off both in the book and the televised drama. In the book, she told Hornblower before the Spanish came aboard Le Reve. While the men and officers would be searched, a duchess would not. Of course it came at a risk. If they ever suspected she was not a duchess, she would be arrested. And of course if they found the documents on her, she probably would be accused of being a spy and executed. In the book she was sent back to England and delivered the documents. The movie greatly expands her character by having her interned nearby while waiting transport to England (via Portugal) so she visits with Hornblower. Later she helps the very sick Kennedy recover. Unfortunately that is when he recognizes her as the actress. And much later the visiting French officer recognizes her as well but does not unmask her to Don Masseredo, commandant of the prison. She spends a night of romance with him which makes Hornblower uneasy. Yet as in the book she is loyal to both Hornblower and England.

Don Masseredo was never identified as such in the book, just the commandant of Ferrol prison who seemed pleasant enough. He did not speak English much and used an Irishman to do that for him (many Irish found jobs working or living in Spain during this period). Don Masseredo comes across as a gentleman but he is a Spanish army officer not to be trifled with either. The duchess uses all her skills with him to allow Hornblower parole and to bring fresh fruit (which Hunter despises and smashes them up). Another touch not in the book is after she left asking him to have Hornblower learn Spanish reading Don Quixote with a lexicon. Certainly the educated Hornblower would have known about the book as English translations had been around for a while. And it is considered one of the best Spanish books in all history and helping spread modern Spanish as well.

One of the nicer touches I liked was Hornblower’s promotion to lieutenant. In the book, the commandant informs of his promotion upon receiving notification from the British during a cartel. A cartel during this period was when enemies exchanged information and or prisoners usually by an agreement (informal or formal). It was much more satisfying to have Pellew deliver him the news when he was aboard Indefatigable. And Pellew did it with flair. When the duchess commended Acting Lieutenant Hornblower’s bravery, Pellew says:

I’m afraid he is no longer my acting lieutenant! As a result of exemplary gallantry in the fire ship attack on Gibraltar, an opinion shared by three captains no less. Captains who would not normally even agree on the color of the orange. His promotion was confirmed in last dispatches. He is now commissioned Lieutenant Hornblower.

An enjoyable episode to watch and the best of the Midshipman Hornblower adaptations.

Historical Notes

Sir Hew Dalrymple, 1st Baronet, by John Jackson, 1831 Image: Public Domain
Sir Hew Dalrymple, 1st Baronet, by John Jackson, 1831
Image: Public Domain

*Sir Hew Dalrymple was a real person. He was not governor of Gibraltar during the French Revolutionary Wars but was Acting Governor from November 1806-August 1808. However his actions in Portugal as Commander of the Portuguese Expedition in 1808 resulted in his being recalled for an official inquiry and to never hold field command again. With the French forces under General Junot defeated and on the run being pursued by General Arthur Wellesley(later Lord Wellington), he was ordered to cease by Dalrymple. Dalrymple negotiated the infamous Convention of Sintra which allowed all the French forces in Portugal (29,900) to be evacuated back to France courtesy of the British Royal Navy. Worse they were allowed to bring personal articles and weapons as well. The Portuguese were outraged by the deal which allowed them to take items stolen from Portugal. It was seen as a disgrace back in London. While the inquiry acquitted all concerned, Dalrymple was eventually promoted (due to seniority) to full general and then quietly retired. He was formally denounced by the government. He then was made governor of Blackness Castle from 1811 to his death in 1830. In short, sent to the rear where he could due the least damage and put in charge of an ancient fortress used as a military prison during the Napoleonic Wars and not much else after that.

*There is no title of nobility for Wharfedale. In fact Wharfedale is one of the Yorkshire Dales in the upper valley of the River Wharfe.

*Prize money was awarded when a navies in time of war seized merchant or military ships of the nation at war with. The British Royal Navy developed a series of rules about how it was to be done and was formalized in the Cruisers and Convoys Act of 1708. For merchant ships that were seized, the sale of cargo and ship would be the prize money to be divided up. Military ships (supply, dispatch and warships) were almost always purchased by the crown providing they were in good shape. Which is why, even with cannons that could sink ships at great distance, they would close in and take if they could. All ships that sighted the enemy craft that was captured were eligible for prize money. Money was allocated in eighths with the ships captain getting the most (which could make him very wealthy), along with admirals who ordered the orders, all the officers and crew got a share as well. Share money for the ordinary seamen could equal several years of pay. Privateers could seize enemy ships if they had a Letter of Marque granting that power but they also had to play by rules as well if they were to be paid. Those days are long gone and prize money is no longer awarded to naval officers who take enemy ships. They can be taken to a prize court and sold but the government gets the money now.

Hornblower:The Fire Ships (aka Examination for Lieutenant)

Hornblower:The Fire Ships (aka Examination for Lieutenant)
93 minutes

This episode is comprised of short stories from C.S. Forester’s Midshipman Hornblower and are:
Hornblower and the Spanish Galleys (just a small bit)
Hornblower and the Examination For Lieutenant
Hornblower and Noah’s Ark

The approximate date is sometime after 19 Aug 1796 when Spain formally made peace with France and joined in its war against Britain.

Spain has made peace with France and a supply ship carrying Captain “Dreadnought” Foster is sunk by the Spanish. He is rescued by Indefatigable and Hornblower is impressed with him. With supplies running short, Hornblower is sent to Oran with a diplomat to purchase livestock, produce and grains. The Black Plague forces Hornblower and his crew to spend quarantine on the Caroline and they all return safely to Indefatigable. During his lieutenants examination, a Spanish fire ship is sighted. Hornblower and Dreadnought Foster work to steer the ship away from the fleet saving Indefatigable.

The episode opens with the Spanish delivering a message to Captain Pellew that Spain has made peace with France;he has six hours to leave Spanish waters or be fired upon. Meanwhile a supply ship carrying Captain “Dreadnought” Foster comes under attack. Foster takes command when the ship captain believes they have no chance of escape and gives orders they fight. The ship is sunk and Foster and the few surviving crew (one attacked him in the water for sinking the ship) are rescued by Indefatigable.

During the meal with Indefatigable’s officers, Foster relates what happened but finds most of the senior officers not exactly on his side. Hornblower seems supportive and is glad France was deprived of the supplies. The other officers, in particular Pellew, are not so pleased. Due to food supplies running low, Captain Pellew orders half-rations for the crew. He points out to Hornblower that Foster will have to do the same. Meanwhile Bunting, a seaman in Hornblower’s section, is a problem. Fitch was his friend who helped him calm down when pressed. Sadly he dies from malnutrition causing Bunting to be angry. He makes mutinous talks with his mates, Hornblower hears some of it and warns him to stop it. Bunting, believing the officers are hoarding good food, breaks into the ship stores. He finds the food old, stale, and moldy and is caught. Pellew makes him walk the gauntlet where each seaman strikes him with the cat of nine tails. Hornblower admits knowing of his poisonous talk and Pellew orders him to lead him through the gauntlet.

Hornblower is assigned command of the Caroline to transport food supplies and livestock from Oran. Tapling of the foreign service joins him on the expedition. Once ashore they discover Bunting hiding on the longboat. Meanwhile as supplies are being received, it is clear something amiss is going on. It is the Black Death and they must gather up their supplies and leave. Hornblower informs Pellew of what happened and will serve out the three week quarantine on Caroline. During that time, they go ashore to fetch fresh water and encounter a Spanish patrol. Bunting tries to escape but is recaptured. Hornblower ends up killing him in the end. Tapling tries to tell him he was correct in doing so.

However in returning to Caroline, he sees another British ship is taking supplies off it. It is Dreadnaught Foster’s ship and Hornblower tries in vain to prevent it since they are still in quarantine. Foster gets belligerent and Hornblower says his duty is to the fleet. He ends letting Foster taking what his men have already gotten and Foster says he will see him in Gibralatar. Tapling tries to make Hornblower understand he did his duty regarding Bunting but Hornblower wonders if he is fit to be in command. He believes Pellew would have done it differently. They are welcomed back by the Indefatigable and Pellew also tells him he did his duty regarding Bunter. He says men like Bunting have cast themselves adrift and this is part of the bitter brew that officers have to deal with.

At the lieutenants exam, Dreadnought Foster is part of the examination board and Hornblower struggles in dealing with a question. Fortunately the signal is sounded and a fire ship is spotted heading towards the fleet. The three captains and Hornblower board a longboat and head to the fire ship. Foster and Hornblower board and steer it away from Indefatigable. However as they turn to leave, Foster falls through some loose boarding and barely hangs on. Hornblower saves him and they both jump in the water and rescued by the longboat containing captains Hammond and Harvey. Foster relays his unhappiness they were not close enough. Hammond takes offense and a duel is in the offing. Hornblower says that he is saddened that one of the two will not be alive after dawn. That seems to have a calming effect.

Captain Pellew offers Hornblower a drink in his sea cabin and thanks him for saving his ship. He also relates that particular exam board will not likely reconvene and that he was not doing well. Pellew notes though he has been through a much sterner examination and says it has been an honor to serve with him.

Deviations from Midshipman Hornblower
*In the book the exam occurs before the mission to Oran.

*Captain Dreadnought Foster does not appear until Hornblower’s examination. There was no supply ship sunk that he was aboard and had to be rescued later. While it was common back then to refer to a captain by the name of the ship when returning to his ship, it was not commonly used as part of your name elsewhere. In the book, his real first name is never used.

*Bracegirdle is still a midshipman, not a lieutenant.

*There was no Bunting.

*Hornblower captured a Spanish ship and brought to Gibraltar at conclusion of quarantine. It is the commissary officer in port that chides him for serving fresh beef for his crew calling it an extravagance.

*The examination for lieutenant was aboard a captured Spanish ship Santa Maria. One funny scene is a midshipman leaves when he learns Captain Hammond is one of the examiners. He accidentally tossed his dog over the side of the ship and knows he will never get promoted if Hammond is one of the examiners.

*Foster and Hornblower do get aboard a fire ship and steer it away. They are first rescued by Spanish when they jump in the water, who then are captured by British. Foster orders they be let go for saving their lives.

*Foster tells Hornblower that particular examination board will never meet again and that he was failing. However he intends to notify the authorities of his heroism.

Combining three small stories into one coherent episode took some doing for the scriptwriter. The theme that unites is leadership and Hornblower is certainly put to the test. Dreadnought Foster was only in one story (Examination For Lieutenant) and never appears again. The contrasting styles of Pellew and Foster gave Hornblower a chance to see which was the best to emulate. At first he seemed quite taken with Foster’s deeds but slowly comes to realize towards the end that his duty is not just to himself but to the fleet. Foster was indifferent and it cost a supply ship (sunk by the Spanish) and most of its crew. The fact he was willing to take food off a quarantine ship shows the disregard he had for his crew as well. If Hornblower’s men were infected, then taking that meat put his men in mortal danger. Pellew had to put the good of the fleet first in the chance that Hornblower and his men were not infected and would bring to supplies back in three weeks.

The Bunting subplot was to once again show growth and development for Hornblower. Hornblower also had to deal with meting out justice. Not only was Bunting a thief but tried to desert. While ashore he runs to the Spanish patrol but is recaptured. Hornblower does not want to kill Bunting but he was left with little choice. Bunting grabbed his gun and Hornblower fired killing Bunting. He did not like killing Bunting and felt remorse over it. In part that is a good thing. Taking joy in the execution of another human life, no matter how deserving, can lead to one becoming comfortable with taking life. The truth for Hornblower is that sometimes men aboard ships will do bad things. And rules during time of war are strict about such conduct. Which means if he is the senior officer he will have to order punishment. In the books it was never easy for him but he did it because duty demanded it. Captain Pellew points out that it is part of the bitter brew they must endure.

His bravery aboard the fire ship showed he was willing to do the extraordinary for the fleet. Pellew’s growing admiration shows how much he has come from the very junior midshipman that reported for duty aboard the Justinian. All in all, an excellent adventure. The adaptation did not alter too much of the Hornblower universe though it would have been great to have seen Hornblower seize control of the Spanish ship as done in the book. An excellent second outing in the series.

Historical Notes
*On 19 Aug 1796 Spain signed the Treaty of San Ildefonso with France and becoming an ally of First Republic. Spain would combine its forces with France against Britain. Spain’s prime minister Godoy thought it was the best of a bad situation. The war with France had not gone well for Spain. France had seized several northern cities and threats of unrest caused by revolutionary ideals led into the peace decision. Also many in Spain, Godoy included, did not like the British much. However the decision resulted in Spain suffering severe economic problems. Trade with Britain and the United States ended. Shipments between their American colonies faced being intercepted and captured by the British. Spain was a weak imperial power at this time so it did not have many cards to play. They used old galleys to take becalmed ships near land when their escorts were too far away as galleys used slaves to row them. Spain suffered a huge defeat in 1805 when the British defeated the combined French-Spanish fleet at Trafalgar. After that, Godoy and others like him became more distrusted by those loyal to the old order. Ultimately Napoleon put his brother on the throne and invaded Spain in 1808. That action led to other Spanish to unite in opposition to France and they made peace with Britain. Britain aided by loyalist Portuguese, Spanish guerrillas, and sometimes loyal units of Spain, would work to push France out of the Iberian Peninsula. It would be led by General Sir Arthur Wellesley (later Lord Wellington).

*Fire ships were first used in ancient times. They would take a ship and fill it wood (usually the type that would burn hot and fast), light it, and push it toward an enemy ship. Ships are highly flammable due to the dry timber and oils used to seal it. Greek fire was used later from ships to hurl at enemies causing the same effect. Fire ships had become mostly obsolete by the late 18th and early 19th centuries. However some ships of the British and French navies were used for this purpose. They were piloted by a skeleton crew that would steer it, ignite the fuel, and escape in a long boat. It was a devastating weapon when used at ships in port. Since the ships could not get out of the way easily, it meant those ships were in danger of burning up if it got too close. You could sink it with cannon but the danger was the flying debris would land on decks and that it would take too long to sink before it hit its mark. Fire ships became obsolete when metal replaced wood and steam replaced wind power. The concept is still sound but used differently. You use ships or boats packed with explosives, which was done in Operation Chariot in 1942. The old destroyer HMS Campbeltown was packed with explosives and rammed the dry dock in Saint-Nazaire, France to deny the German warship Tirpitz use of the only dry dock it could use in France. That raid was successful but the commandos that accompanied the mission were unable to return in the small boats as they were destroyed by German fire or other things. The were forced to fight their way out and escape overland. Many ended up surrendering when they ran out of ammunition. 622 men (Royal Navy and commandos) were sent out, only 228 would return to England. 169 men died and 215 were taken prisoner. The dry dock remained out of commission until after the war.

HMS Dreadnought, circa 1831-1857 as hospital ship. Image: public domain
HMS Dreadnought, circa 1831-1857 as hospital ship.
Image: public domain

*The character of Dreadnought Foster appears completely fictional as no historical figure exists with that name. There was an HMS Dreadnought of this period that was commissioned in 1801. It was a Neptune class ship of the line with a class of three 98 gun second rates. The most famous ship of this class was HMS Temeraire(1798). During the battle of Trafalgar, it came to Victory’s aid and took on two French ships and captured them. Temeraire would have been known to Hornblower as this ship was used during this period for blockade or convoy duties in the area. Aside from the Temeraire, its sister ships Dreadnought and Neptune also fought at Trafalgar.

*One of the greatest dangers, aside from fire and disease, was malnutrition. By this time, the cause of scurvy was well understood as lacking certain foods in the diet. The discovery of vitamin C was a long way off. It was known a diet of fruits and vegetables was important. Limes were often used on ships (a daily ration along with run) which is why the name “limey” was often used to denote British sailors. The problem for the British was that Spain was closed to them beyond Gibraltar so no hope of getting food there. Other outlets (Sicily, Italy, Greece) were more difficult. The Ottoman’s were not that hospitable either. So the closest and easiest choice were the nearby Barbary states like Oran to supply the fleet until other supply ships arrived.

*The effects of disease on ships was an acute one and could wipe out more than half its crew (or more). The Black Death, although no longer a major threat in Europe, was still around. It is believed today that there were several forms of the plague that spawned from the Yersinia pestis bacterium. Thought possibly to have been spread by traders from the east, most believe it was spread by black rats with fleas carrying the disease. The fleas would jump from rats to humans spreading the disease to their new hosts. 30-60%(depending on the area and how widespread the infection was) of the European population were killed between 1346-53. The plague would reoccur in Europe. It also ravaged North Africa and the Middle East as well. Tapling refers to an outbreak in Smyrna(known today as Izmir in Turkey) in 1786. The date may be fictional but incidents of Black Death did occur in that region in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Review:Hornblower: The Duel(1998)

Artist:Léopold Le Guen Photo: Public Domain
Artist:Léopold Le Guen
Photo: Public Domain

Hornblower: The Duel(1998)
aka Hornblower:The Even Chance
93 minutes


This first installment of the A&E series covers the following short stories from C.S.Forester’s Midshipman Hornblower:

Hornblower and the Even Chance
Hornblower and the Cargo of Rice
Hornblower and the Penalty of Failure
Hornblower and the Man Who Felt Queer
Hornblower and the Man Who Saw God

This episode deals with Hornblower’s arrival on Justinian, his conflict with Midshipman Simpson, transfer to the Indefatigable, his captaincy of the Marie Galante (and its loss) and a major encounter with the French. It concludes with the duel between Hornblower and Simpson.

The starting year is approximately January 1793.

17 year-old Horatio Hornblower arrives on HMS Justinian and meets Captain Keene, who is not well. Keene knew his father (a doctor) as a patient of his. His fellow midshipman chide him on his age and not starting sooner. Meanwhile senior Midshipman Simpson returns to everyone’s regret after failing to pass his examination for lieutenant. He is a bully,tough on Hornblower and rules the other midshipman through fear and intimidation. He comes to particularly dislike Hornblower because he does better than him in navigation classes.

During a game of whist on shore waiting for a merchant convoy to arrive, Simpson accuses Hornblower of cheating because he wins. Hornblower challenges him to a duel, which is accepted, but on the day of the duel Midshipman Clayton(who had become friends with Hornblower) knocks him out and takes his place. Hornblower arrives after the duel to find Clayton mortally injured. Just after he dies it is learned that England and France are now at war (setting the date sometime on or after 1 Feb 1793 when France declared war on England).

Hornblower and other midshipman (and some crew) are transferred to HMS Indefatigable captained by Captain Sir Edward Pellew. In his first meeting with Pellew, he tells Hornblower that he judges a man not by what he hears but what he sees. He is referring to the report of the duel and the fact that Hornblower had someone else stand in for him. Hornblower tries to defend his old captain when Pellew is critical of the conditions that led to the duel but reminded that a ship captain is responsible for everything aboard his ship.

The taking of the Marie Galante, a small merchant ship, gives Hornblower his first command. Unfortunately he discovers later that a cannon shot caused a small hole under the waterline resulting in the ship taking water. They try to plug it up but the cargo–rice–swells causing damage to the ship. They try dumping the rice over the side but to no avail. The small prize crew and the French seamen have to get on long boat and hope for the best. The French eventually take command and the captain wants the compass and charts. Hornblower tosses the compass overboard but the confidant French captain says he will get them to France. Time passes and they are no closer to land than before and the French seamen are angry. Hornblower had kept the coordinates in his head and knows they merely turned around are going parallel to the coast. Fortunately the Indefatigable appears and they are all rescued. The British seamen report Hornblower’s exploits to the crew while he reports to Pellew as to what happened. Pellew is not upset and ultimately says it was better for France to loose the rice rather than Britain to profit from it.

The Justinian is sunk in battle by the Papillon and one of the survivors picked up is Midshipman Simpson. Pellew decides they need to capture the Papillon to take it out of French hands. So he plans a daring raid in which the ship will be seized at night. During that raid, Midshipman Kennedy has an epileptic fit and has to be left in the boat. Meanwhile Simpson cuts the line setting it free and fires on Hornblower hoping it will kill him. It does not and he charges Simpson with attempted murder to Lieutenant Eccleston. Unfortunately both Lieutenants Eccleston and Chadd would die right after that when the ship is raked with enemy fire. Eccleston gives Hornblower command with his dying breath but Simpson tries to take command, and is stopped when Bowles accepts Hornblower’s authority.

Hornblower steers Papillon to where the French are battling the Indefatigable. Their ship is still showing French colors so they are not fired upon. They fire on the French ships giving the Indefatigable a better chance of success. It works and Pellew commends his actions but wants to know he came in command of Papillon. Which leads to a fiery exchange in Pellew’s quarters with Midshipman Simpson. He denies the charges and calls Hornblower a coward. Pellew counters that Hornblower cannot be called a coward considering his heroism in combat. Simpson maintains he is a coward for refusing to defend his honor. Pellew, who ordered Hornblower not to duel, lifts the restriction. At the duel, Simpson purposefully does not wait out the count and fires injuring but not killing Hornblower. Hornblower points the gun in the air and fires saying Simpson was not worth it. Simpson grabs a knife and attempts to attack Hornblower while his back is turned. But a bullet fired by Captain Pellew hits him in the chest killing him on the spot.

Pellew later says he dispensed justice reminding Hornblower he judges by actions not words. Hornblower is grateful but Pellew reminds him that he has fought his duel but not to fight another.

Historical note: The character of Captain Sir Edward Pellew is based upon a real life figure, Edward Pellew,1st Viscount Exmouth. He was a real naval hero of his day, did command the Indefatigable early on in the wars with France, and rose to the rank of Admiral. Likewise the ship HMS Indefatigable was a real ship that served during the wars with France with a distinguished record that included capturing 27 prize ships. Pellew commanded the HMS Indefatigable from 1794-1799 during the French Revolutionary War period.

Deviations From Midshipman Hornblower
*Captain Keene ordered the guns tampered with so the duel between Simpson and Hornblower would be satisfied but no one would be killed. Clayton does not stand in for Hornblower.
*It is Keene who arranges the transfer to Indefatigable because Captain Pellew needs a good whist player. And it offers more opportunity for advancement. And possibly to get Hornblower off the ship after the duel so he and Simpson will not serve on same ship.
*The events on the Marie Galante are mostly the same with minor deviations. They were forced to abandon ship but the are not rescued by the Indefatigable, but by a French privateer. The Indefatigable catches sight and pursues but the ship is too fast. So Hornblower lights a fire that forces the captain and crew to spend time putting it out. That allows the Indy the time to catch up and seize the ship. Pellew inquiries about the fire but Hornblower does not take credit for it.
*The Justinian was not sunk by the French so Simpson never comes aboard. Thus he was not part of the raid on the Papillon. It was another character that had a problem that had to be knocked out to keep quiet. During the escape the boat was cut loose and left drifting into France.
*There was no battle at the end where the Papillon, under Hornblower’s command, saves the Indefatigable. Nor is there a second duel between Simpson and Hornblower.

Although it deviates substantively at some points, the essential outline of the stories remain. However it is curious the scriptwriter choose to focus on the duel. Duelling was indeed common amongst naval officers (army as well) but was frowned upon by religious leaders and the general public. By this time, the use of duelling pistols had become the accepted manner. Since they were single fire weapons, you had only one chance to fire and possibly kill your opponent. Which is why the story is called the Even Chance by the author. From what I read, many duels were resolved by an apology to the offended party. Honor was satisfied and both went on their ways. That was not always the case especially if there was serious issues of honor involved. Midshipman Simpson was not about to apologize for his accusation that Hornblower cheated at cards and was quite happy to accept the duel. Being the older and more experienced of the two, he figured he would win. Plus he was a nasty and cruel man who wanted to kill Hornblower.

Captain Pellew believed the problem lay with Captain Keene for not running his ship right. Hornblower tries to defend him but Pellew reminds him that a captain is responsible for everything that goes on his ship. That in a nutshell is exactly the lesson Hornblower has to absorb and in a large way the entire episode. An officer is responsible for everything that goes on in his department but the captain is responsible for the entire operation from top to bottom. The fact that a bully like Simpson got away with what he did on Justinian shows what happens when discipline is lacking. A sharp lieutenant would have noticed Simpson’s ways and reigned him in or put him up for the captain’s review. Hornblower would command the Marie Gallante and loose her because of a hole on the side under the waterline. In the book he felt the sting of failure for not being able to save the ship and its cargo.

When he returns and reports what happens to Pellew, he faces no harsh criticism (the same as in the book). Pellew also noticed how the men respected him after the return. He learned how to lead and earn the respect of those who serve with them. An important lesson especially back then when sea duty could be long, with awful food, and of course away from any amenities. The only solace for most sailors was the daily rum ration. Water did not last long in the barrels (it turned bad and nasty things began growing in it) which is why beer and alcohol took the place of water at most meals.

Pellew’s taking of the Papillon was a daring plan to rob the French of a powerful ship of the line. And it worked both in the book and in the televised dramatization. Except they added more tension with Pellew under attack from other French ships. In the book Pellew was not foolish enough to engage with other French ships where he could be surrounded, yet the tv version had him in this predicament. This was done, no doubt, so that Hornblower could save the day as the surviving officer of the raid to take the ship (Simpson was under lock and key at this point for trying to kill Hornblower earlier). Still it makes for riveting television and one cannot fault the scriptwriter for wanting to highlight early Hornblower’s courage and daring that he became noted for in the books.

All in all this first installment of Hornblower series is exciting and riveting at times. Some characters are more developed then in the book and continue on through the series for continuity purposes. Ioan Gruffudd plays the part of Hornblower well and actually understands Forrester’s depiction of the character. Robert Lindsay is also excellent as Captain Pellew. People with sharp eyes will recognize Jamie Bamber (Midshipman Kennedy) who went on to play Lee Adama on the new Battlestar Galactica. His character is cast adrift in this episode but returns in Duchess and The Devil. The series would use Pellew’s character more than the book did (he appears mainly in the early books) giving Hornblower a mentor that would offer some needed guidance.

The acting is superb as well as the sets (one of which is replica ship of this period for the Indefatigable). One certainly gets the feel of a ship of the line back then. And why, if you could avoid it, you ran from serving in the Royal Navy as a seamen. There was nothing romantic about it. It was hard work under strict discipline with food that was not that good (even in port!). Worse were long sea voyages where as food ran low you existed on a narrow diet of salted foods, hard tack (look that up!), and rum. A superb first outing for Hornblower and well worth watching.

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