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A&E Home Video presents
C.S. Forester's Horatio Hornblower (1999)

"How quickly friends become enemies in the teeth of war."
- Captain Pellew (Robert Lindsay)

Review By: Daniel Hirshleifer  
Published: May 06, 2001

Stars: Ioan Gruffud, Robert Lindsay
Other Stars: Michael Byrne, Dorian Healy, Robert Bathurst
Director: Andrew Grieves

Manufacturer: United Productions
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 06h:17m:59s
Release Date: January 25, 2000
UPC: 733961700626
Genre: television

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- A-AB- B-

DVD Review

During the Napoleonic Wars, the HMS Indefatigable sails the high seas. Aboard this ship is one Lt. Horatio Hornblower (Ioan Gruffud), a young man of promise. Under the command of Captain Pellew (Robert Lindsay), Horatio finds adventure, romance, and a sense of himself as a man. Horatio Hornblower is truly one of the best shows on television. Combining swashbuckling adventure with complex characters and strong writing, the series remains uniformly strong through several episodes with running times of almost two hours. Ioan Gruffud and Robert Lindsay lead a wonderful cast of highly talented actors. Now A&E bring us this spectacular series in a DVD set. Let's see how it turned out:

Episode 1: The Duel
"Now you see how the tree of indiscipline bears fruit." - Horatio Hornblower

This episode introduces Horatio as a midshipman on the HMS Justinian. He makes an enemy out of Midshipman Simpson, a murderous cheat; but then Horatio is transferred to the Indefatigable, where he fits in more easily. However, Horatio soon has trouble as the ship picks up the survivors of a recent battle, and Midshipman Simpson is among them. The first Horatio episode is probably the best. We see Horatio as a young, untried midshipman, ready to prove his mettle, but finding himself thwarted at almost every turn. The duel alluded to in the title is one of the most exciting scenes in the entire series, and several other action scenes are directed with consummate style. This episode gets 5 out of 5 bayonets.

Episode 2: The Fire Ships
"From this day forth, the next man caught stealing food from the hull shall hang!" - Captain Pellew

Early in this episode, a legendary sea captain is on a ship carrying vital supplies to the English fleet at sea. The Spanish, who had just recently declared war on England, attacks the ship and sinks it, so the captain must put the crew on half rations, prompting the men to worry about disease. Meanwhile, Captain Pellew decides to allow Horatio to go for testing to become a lieutenant; but before he can, Horatio is put through a series of real life tests that are far more rigorous than any he will receive in the exam hall. This chapter in the series fulfills the promise of the first one. Since Horatio has proved himself to Pellew in the first episode, he is now given more important missions, which only increase the excitement and action. However, this one also begins the trend of each episode having some character who does nothing more than act as a thorn in Horatio's side, creating a small obstacle that Horatio must overcome. The addition of these characters is contrived and adds no value to the story as a whole. This episode rates 4.5 bayonets out of 5.

Episode 3: The Duchess And The Devil
Horatio: England, sir?
Pellew: Yes! England, boy. A big, damp, foggy island nor-nor-east of Ushtan. Think you can find it?

Horatio and his men capture the French ship, La Reve. Horatio must bring it back to England, and in doing so must also ferry a mysterious Duchess to England, along with some vital strategic dispatches. Horatio gets lost in a fog and is captured by the Spanish fleet; but instead of dumping the dispatches into the ocean as ordered, the Duchess convinces him to hide them with her. As he languishes in a Spanish prison, and Horatio begins to harbor doubts as to the sincerity of the Duchess. Another stellar episode, this one is bolstered by the introduction of a semi-romantic relationship between Horatio and the Duchess. The relationship is well written, as Horatio cares for the Duchess and she for him, and while the more romantic aspect of their relationship is hinted at, it never overtakes the story. Once again, the action scenes are directed with panache and are as exciting as we've come to expect. This episode gets 5 bayonets out of 5.

Episode 4: The Wrong War
Horatio: Perhaps next week we could be toasting the downfall of the French Republic, sir.
Pellew: Yes, Mr. Hornblower. That is the plan, at least.

The Indefatigable gets its most important mission yet: they must carry a force of French loyalists back into France so they can rally the people against the Republic. The crew at first resists the French, whom they see as the enemy, but Horatio attempts to let cooler attitudes prevail. However, he soon has his own misgivings as the Marquis he brought back to France embarks upon a reign of terror, killing innocent townspeople. Throw into this mix a quick romance with a French peasant and you have a typical Horatio episode. This is by far the weakest storyline of all in this or the second set, Horatio Hornblower: The Adventure Continues. The writing seems more simplistic than in other episodes. Take the romance between Horatio and the French peasant, for example: unlike the layered and complex relationship between the Duchess and Horatio, here Horatio meets the woman, decides he must protect her from the "savage" French troops and the next day they're hopelessly in love. Also, the French loyalists are depicted as shamelessly evil, while even the dialogue appears to be far more black and white than in previous episodes. Also, the action sequences aren't as dynamic, mostly because there are no big fights. This episode only garners 2.5 bayonets out of 5.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: As the image is in 1.33:1, it cannot be anamorphic. However, the image is crystal clear, with sharp details, a strong color palette, and no bleeding. Black levels are strong and this is by far the best way to view the series.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: The upfront surrounds are nice and loud, while never being distorted in this DD2.0 track. Dialogue is never obscured, and there was no hiss I could detect. The rear surrounds are used infrequently, and when they are, the mix is so low I had to turn them up all the way just to hear them. The series was made for TV, so I can understand the low mix for the rears, but since the sound was there, I would have liked it to be louder.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 75 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
2 Documentaries
Packaging: Alpha
4 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. C.S. Forester biography
  2. Glossary of nautical terms
Extras Review: Disc 1 contains a biography of C.S. Forester, the author of the books the series is based on, which is nothing more than a quick summary of his life. Disc 2 contains a glossary of nautical terms that is useful as a handy reference. Disc 3 contains a behind-the-scenes look at the series that is just a studio fluff piece, although it was interesting to see the creation of the ship that served as the Indefatigable. I would not suggest watching the behind-the-scenes documentary until you've seen all of the episodes, as it shows clips from all four. Disc 4 contains a great documentary, England's Royal Warships. It takes place mostly on a real British warship, intercut with footage made for the documentary, along with paintings, drawings, and footage from Horatio Hornblower as well. The documentary compares life in the British Navy during Napoleonic times to life in the British Navy now. It's a fascinating piece and worth the price of the set alone.

Extras Grade: B-


Final Comments

Horatio Hornblower blows the competition out of the water!


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