Tag Archives: Midshipman Hornblower

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

The Wrong WarReview: Hornblower:The Wrong War (aka The Frogs & Lobsters)
A&E
1999
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.

Summary
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.

Plot
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 Marseillais 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 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.

Review
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.

Summary
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.

Plot
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 he 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.

Review
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.