Horatio Hornblower: Duty,
directed by Andrew Grieve
(A&E/ITV, 2003)

It begins with a sweet, if ill-fated wedding.

Duty, sadly the last in a series of Horatio Hornblower films starring Ioan Gruffudd in the title role, begins with Commander Hornblower's wedding to Maria Mason (Julia Sawalha), the sweet landlady's daughter who captured Hornblower's sympathies and affection, if not his love. Soon enough, however, he must set sail for the coast of France, where the ship Grasshopper has gone missing with Hornblower's former superior officer, Captain Bracegirdle (Jonathan Coy), commanding.

Logic fails here, as the ship has been missing long enough for the fleet to be missing its dispatches, and yet Hornblower's sloop Hotspur arrives only a day after catastrophe struck.

Even so, with a French invasion of England via Ireland in the offing, there is substantial opportunity for dramatic storytelling. Compared to the previous seven movies in the series, however, this final chapter is the weakest. There is more intrigue, yes, but skulking about in hay lofts and trading gibes with mysterious passengers is no substitute for no-holds-barred naval action, of which there is little.

Hornblower continues to act in the heroic manner to which we are accustomed, if sometimes overstepping the bounds of things a captain should do. And yet Hornblower himself seems colder here, less appealing than he has in the past. He's not the only character to suffer, either; Styles (Sean Gilder), a loyal sailor who has grown admirably as a character through the series, regresses to former petulance.

The Hornblower series has always boasted strong performances from its cast, and they do not disappoint here. Besides Gruffudd and Sawalha, special note should be made of series regulars Paul McGann as Lt. William Bush, Robert Lindsay as Admiral Sir Edward Pellew and Paul Copley as Matthews, as well as newcomer Ron Cook as the hapless steward, James Doughty.

Sadly, although there was ample material for more films in the series (and, apparently, plenty of enthusiasm from the cast to continue), Horatio Hornblower ended its run here. It's a shame such as excellent series ended on its weakest note.

review by
Tom Knapp

18 August 2012

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