Hornblower: The Duel

  • 1998
  • 1 HR 33 MIN
  • NR
  • Action, Adventure, Historical

Of all the Captain Hornblower Hornblower films, this psychological drama takes the greatest emotional toll on viewers while evoking maritime life in the late 18th century with brutal verisimilitude. As a 17-year-old enlistee, impressionable Hornblower Hornblower (Ioan Gruffudd) signs up for the life of a midshipman on the Justinian. A physician’s son...read more

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Reviewed by Robert Pardi
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Of all the Captain Hornblower Hornblower films, this psychological drama takes the greatest emotional toll on viewers while evoking maritime life in the late 18th century with brutal verisimilitude.

As a 17-year-old enlistee, impressionable Hornblower Hornblower (Ioan Gruffudd) signs up for the life of a midshipman on the Justinian. A physician’s son blessed with an education, Hornblower outshines other potential candidates for officer slots. Although aging Captain Keene (Michael Byrne) admires Hornblower's enthusiasm, jealous Midshipman Jack Simpson (Dorian Healy) turns his sadistic attentions to the innocent newcomer. Simpson rules the below-decks roost, lording it over his peers, like Midshipman Clayton (Duncan Bell) and terrorizing apprentices like Kennedy (Jamie Bamber) into submission. In an effort to undermine the new apple of the Captain’s eye, Simpson sees to it that Hornblower is habitually food- and sleep-deprived; whenever he can do so without breaking protocol, Clayton intervenes on Hornblower’s behalf. During a shore mission, Simpson accuses Hornblower of cheating at cards; Hornblower responds by challenging him to a duel. Still looking out for Hornblower, Clayton drugs him and fights in his stead. Clayton wounds Simpson, but Simpson shoots Clayton with fatal precision. Temporarily free of the injured Clayton, Hornblower and Kennedy set sail with a new Captain, Pellew (Robert Lindsay), who commands the Indefatigable. At the Bay of Biscay, Hornblower distinguishes himself by boarding a French vessel and taking prisoners; though the try to wrest control of the ship en route to a British port, Hornblower thwarts them. Hornblower earn additional kudos from Captain Pellew, but gets a shock when his ship rescues a distressed seaman, the now-recovered Simpson! Kennedy and Hornblower must watch their backs as they launch an assault on the French vessel Papillon with the grudge-carrying Simpson aboard.

Throughout this tense historical drama it feels as though screenwriter Russell Lewis has ripped C.S. Forester’s characters out of their gung-ho adventure setting and exiled them to Herman Melville’s dour universe. The measure of Hornblower’s courage has never been so sharply delineated as in this saga of a nemesis deadlier than any foreign foe.

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  • Released: 1998
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: Of all the Captain Hornblower Hornblower films, this psychological drama takes the greatest emotional toll on viewers while evoking maritime life in the late 18th century with brutal verisimilitude. As a 17-year-old enlistee, impressionable Hornblower H… (more)

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