Horatio Hornblower: Retribution
directed by Andrew Grieve
(A&E/ITV, 2001)

The events that began in Mutiny continue apace in Retribution.

If you'll recall, 3rd Lt. Horatio Hornblower and his fellow officers stand accused of mutiny after the overthrow of Captain Sawyer's command on the frigate Renown. The tale plays out in a series of tense court-martial scenes as well as flashbacks to the events in question.

Once again, David Warner excels as the mad Sawyer, a hero of the British navy who has gone insane under the constant pressures of leadership. Paranoid and demented, yes, but Sawyer is still crafty; he matches wits step by step with Hornblower (Ioan Gruffudd) as the circumstances of the overthrow -- as well as Sawyer's suspicious fall between decks -- are revealed.

But there's more. Even as Sawyer rages in confinement, Hornblower and his fellow lieutenants -- Bush (Paul McGann), Kennedy (Jamie Bamber) and acting captain Buckland (Nicholas Jones) -- seek to continue their mission to take a key Spanish fort in the West Indies. There are cunning tactics at work here, and a revolutionary army of former slaves on the island will complicate matters even further. Bush, still something of an unknown quantity, rises to the occasion even as Kennedy, Hornblower's oldest friend in the service, makes a devastating decision. Meanwhile, Buckland struggles to find the strength to command even as he battles his growing resentment for Hornblower's heroism.

Each installment in this too-brief series of made-for-TV films is better than the last. I wish it didn't have to end.

review by
Tom Knapp

1 May 2010

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