Sunday, 8 April 2012

Hornblower RN

I have written before about my love for the books about Horatio Hornblower RN and the subsequent film and TV series. Recently I could not resist watching again the 1951 film directed by Rail Walsh which stars Gregory Peck and Hornblower, Virginia Mayo as the sister of Wellington with Robert Beaty and young Terence Morgan. THe film covers the main stories from the Happy Return, A ship of the Line and Flying Colours.

The film open with Hornblower sent on a secret mission to South American to help a megalomaniac rebel who has indicated his willingness to fight against Spain if provided arms and ammunition. The ship is becalmed and the crew verge upon mutiny. Hornblower steers them to the fort controlled by their new ally. The ally admits that the Spanish are sending a major warship, more powerful that the 36 gun frigate and Hornblower devises a successful plan to capture the vessel when it is moored at harbour. The officers are placed in irons below for their own protection. The megalomaniac demands the captured ship which Hornblower hands over despite knowing he should have consulted the Admiralty first.

He then makes his way to Panama where he meets a small Spanish vessel and learns that Spain has switched sides and has become an ally against Napoleon and this is confirmed by a despatch from the local British Government representative and he releases the captives and sets off to reclaim the Spanish ship. This will be difficult enough but there is an added complication as the sister of Wellington is onboard with her maid having fled Panama City because of yellow fever epidemic. This is a fictitious character and Wellington was not made a Duke until later.

They encounter the former Spanish ship and engage in an epic battle in which both vessels appear to be badly damaged with that held by the megalomaniac sunk. Amazingly they appear able to repair the own damaged masts, rigging and other damage to set course for England.

Given that the men have been at sea for many months he has difficulty handling the situation but when she goes down with fever he nurses her night and day until it is confirmed she has swamp fever and survives. Understandably a bond develops between the two. Although engaged to an Admiral she falls in love with Hornblower and he with her but discloses that he is already married. He brings the ship home as quickly as they can.

Most of the Admiralty regard Hornblower as a hero because of his exploits but not the fiancĂ©e‘s husband. Hornblower returns to his home to find that his wife died in childbirth and that he has a son. He learns that Wellington’s sister has married and on being summoned to London to take charge of a ship of the line captured from the French he finds himself assigned to the squadron commander by the sister’s husband. They receive orders to track down four French ships who have escaped a blockade.

The admiral reluctantly agrees that Hornblower should follow up a hunch that the ships will make attempt to support Napoleon campaign in the Iberian Peninsula while the reswt of the command make their way to where it is believed the ships will attempt to shelter. After capturing a French supply ship he learns the whereabouts of the French ships. Pretending to be French, Hornblower enters the harbour where the ships are being prepared to transport supplies. The captured is to taken back to the UK for prize money with a skeleton crew but only after finding the Admiral to say they have located the French ships. The ruse works and he is able to severely damage the French ships and sinking, leaves the vessel blocking the harbour entrance so they have to remain until the British fleet arrives.
Hornblower and his loyal second in Command (played by Beaty) are taken by land towards Paris for trial and execution as spies but they manage to escape with the help of the accompanying strong arm seaman played by James Robertson Justice.

They make their way to the port of Nantes and manage to get on board a captured British Ship manned by a skeleton crew and with the help of a working party of captured British seamen. They take the ship and return home

Understandably Hornblower is hailed as a British Hero but begs to be released from the honours and celebrations to return to his young son. There he finds Wellington’s sister waiting for him as the marriage of convenience has ended with the death of her husband and the couple embrace.

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