Captain Horatio Hornblower escorts a lady of dubious reputation through troubled waters and learns that there’s more than one way for a midshipman to come of age.
During the Napoleonic Wars, Spanish supply ships attempt to sneak past a British blockade. Hornblower (Ioan Gruffudd) makes a counter move, attempting to steer a seized French vessel, La Reve, to Portsmouth. In addition, the high command entrusts Horatio with strategic documents he must destroy if captured. At every turn of this temporary command, veteran midshipman Hunter (Christopher Fulford) second guesses Horatio’s decisions. Further complicating the journey is the unexpected presence of a female passenger, the Duchess (Cheri Lunghi). As Hunter stirs up discontent among the men, Horatio steers the ship through foggy conditions and into the line of fire. Though Horatio flies the French flag as a ruse, the enemy gets wise and rounds up Horatio’s skeleton crew as prisoners of war. Horatio disobeys orders and takes a calculated risk he slips the dispatches to the Duchess. Hornblower and his crew are shipped to a penal colony run by Don Massaredo (Ronald Pickup); the Duchess also becomes his "guest." Hornblower and his men find themselves face to face with a former comrade, Midshipman Kennedy (Jamie Bamber), and though he's suffered mightily in captivity, Kennedy is lucid enough to insist that the Duchess isn't an aristocrat at all she's actually an English actress. As Hornblower sorts out this revelation, Hunter defies him with plans for an ill-conceived prison break. Although the Duchess dallies with a French officer, she holds onto England’s precious documents; the question is where her true alliances lie? A war of nerves ensues as Hunter botches his escape attempt and Don Massaredo weighs the fate of Horatio’s men.
Screenwriter Patrick Harbinson weaves together Mata Hari intrigue and a prisoner-of-war adventure, broadening the manly-man action that's typical of the HORNBLOWER series. Director Andrew Grieve achieves a level of tension usually associated with spy thrillers and the sharp cast is equally good at crossing
swords and matching wits.
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