Take a Drink: anytime Horatio is hampered by an ill-minded crew-member
Take a Drink: each time Horatio concocts a scheme that will surely save the day (and it does)
Drink a Shot: for major character deaths
By: Oberst Von Berauscht (Two Beers) –
Hornblower (Re-titled “Horatio Hornblower” for U.S. release) is a story of a swashbuckling officer in the British Navy. The first four feature-length episodes chronicle Hornblower’s rise from lowly Midshipman to full Lieutenant, and the next 4 follow him as he rises to the rank of Captain. Along the way, Horatio Hornblower fights a duel to the death, is captured and tortured by Spaniards, leads a successful mutiny against a mad captain, and skewers many a Frenchie with his trusty sabre.
In the late 1990s on cable TV it was very common for British television series to gain cult popularity in the U.S. via the A&E television network. At the time Hornblower was released, it was very well received, earning an Emmy award for outstanding miniseries. The show holds up well even today, with solid acting, writing, and a scope that closely foreshadowed the cinematic television style which modern audiences favor. The series is more accessible than most serialized shows with each episode effectively a 100 minute movie with a complete arc, but an overarching character story that continues from entry to entry.
It stars the underrated Ioan Gruffudd as the titular hero, who imparts a tortured, endlessly modest nature to a character who could easily have been a boring altruist. Horatio is no less ambitious than his fellow officers, but his sense of loyalty and willingness to learn endear him to his superiors, and earn him the ire of his peers, who are more concerned with saving face. While Hornblower is eager to succeed; he is depicted as being haunted by even the smallest of failures. Other credit is due to actor Robert Lindsay for the portrayal of Captain Pellew, who takes Hornblower under his wing, and gradually comes to see the young Lieutenant as a son. His performance is ultimately the heart and soul of the series, representing the audience’s will to see Hornblower succeed.
Produced for A&E Television between 1998 and 2003, the Hornblower series should be lauded for putting every ounce of its limited budget on the screen. The show features well-shot and epic naval battles, fierce land engagements with plenty of extras, and sweeping camerawork that highlights just how much of the show was actually shot on real sailing vessels. Sadly, as the series moves on, particularly in the final two films of the series, the special effects become increasingly low budget, often resorting to corny CGI rendered fire and explosions, as well as terrible digital composite shots which can turn dramatic moments into laughable jokes.
Some of the films in the series work better than others, though all are very watchable. While I would recommend starting from the beginning with the first episode “The Duel” (Released as “An Even Chance” in the U.K.), those looking for the best drama should look no further than the two episode arc of “Mutiny” and “Retribution” co-starring David Warner as a famed Captain whose grip on sanity drives Horatio and crew to rebel.
While hampered by the budgetary constraints of its late 1990s-early-2000s made-for-cable TV budget, the Hornblower series is nevertheless an incredibly well-realized and unabashedly pulpy swashbuckling adventure series. This is must-see television for those who feel unfulfilled by the overly-fantastical elements of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, and want something closer to Captain Blood.