Hornblower: The Duel(1998)
aka Hornblower:The Even Chance
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 repeat 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.