Horatio Hornblower: The Duchess & the Devil
directed by Andrew Grieve
(A&E/ITV, 1999)

In the testosterone-laden world that is Horatio Hornblower's British navy, the Duchess of Wharfedale (played as a force of nature by Cherie Lunghi) is a breath of fresh, if perfume-scented, air.

In The Duchess & the Devil, Hornblower (Ioan Gruffudd) has successfully captured a French ship and is sent with it and a prize crew back to Portsmouth. He is also asked to provide transport to the duchess, who is eager to return to England's shores.

But the voyage runs afoul of a dense fog and the Spanish armada, which has joined the war on the French side, and Hornblower and his men end up in a Spanish prison. Finding some means of escape -- and dealing with the machinations of headstrong Midshipman Hunter (Christopher Fulford) -- provide the meat of this tale. Then, when a Spanish ship smashes on the deadly rocks offshore and a storm prevents rescue, Hornblower and his men volunteer to provide aid -- so long as they promise to come meekly back to jail afterwards.

There are many layers, too, to the duchess, who is much more than just a fine dining and strolling companion. She is more than meets the eye, and Lunghi plays the role with wit and relish.

Duchess is another fine entry in the Hornblower series, giving new dimension to the early tales by C.S. Forester.

review by
Tom Knapp

20 March 2010

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