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Hornblower is the umbrella title of a series of television drama programmes based on C. S. Forester's novels about the fictional character Horatio Hornblower, a Royal Naval officer during the French Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars. The series stars Ioan Gruffudd in the title role and is produced by the British broadcaster Meridian Television, and shown on ITV in the UK and A&E Television Networks in the US. The series consists of eight made-for-television movies, which are notable for their high production values. In the US, the series was retitled Horatio Hornblower, and some of the episodes were known by different titles. The eight movies cover the events of just three novels (Mr. Midshipman Hornblower, Lieutenant Hornblower, and Hornblower and the Hotspur), and various alterations and additions are made to the source material.

The series provides examples of:

  • Ascended Extra: In the books, Matthews and Stiles are named in a short scene with little relevance to the rest of the story, in the series they're major characters that are with Hornblower his entire career.
    • Archie Kennedy as well, who didn't even have a first name in the books. It results mostly from his being a Composite Character.
  • Bad Liar: Horatio in the first episode when he's tyring to pass off some bruising as accidental. He does improve in the rest of the series.

 Horatio: I fell, sir.

Eccleston: On both sides of your face?

  • Badass Adorable: Archie Kennedy, first seen in action when he participates in a boarding party, afterwards running up to Horatio to babble excitedly about how he "killed two! Well, one, certainly." He gets increasingly more competent in action throughout the series. Yet he remains as adorable as ever.
  • Badass Bookworm: Just the same as in the books, Horatio himself.
  • Berserk Button: Archie really does not like seeing Wellard abused in Series Two; this probably has a great deal to do with the suffering he endured as a midshipman. When Randall, one of the sailors and below Wellard in rank, calls the latter "little boy" and mocks him, Archie gives him a pretty epic shout-down. And when Sawyer has Wellard beaten multiple times for no good reason, the rest of the lieutenants are angry at the injustice but he is positively seething.
    • After Randall disrespects Wellard, Horatio was right alongside Archie, laying down the law. Disrespect towards the officers aboard a sailing vessel was one thing that could not be tolerated, lest it be allowed to eventually grow to become mutiny. In fact, Captain Sawyer encouraging just this sort of behavior by discouraging discipline against the men was a major concern of the officers aboard the ship.
  • Big Damn Heroes: This appears to be the Indefatigable's main role in Series One.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Retribution.
  • Blatant Lies: Hornblower, ironically enough for The Captain, is stricken with sea sickness every time he puts to sea. At one point, he makes a lame attempt to blame this on eating "a bad egg at breakfast". Lieutenant Bush replies that it is the most likely explanation.
  • Blood From the Mouth: Happens with Clayton in "Even Chance."
    • And later in "Retribution" with Archie.
    • In fact, most named characters die with this.
  • Blue Eyes: Archie.
  • Brainy Brunet: Horatio.
  • Break the Cutie: Kennedy and Wellard.
  • Card Games: Hornblower is himself a great fan of the game of Whist, and will often play it to pass the time.
    • In The Even Chance/The Duel, Hornblower finds an opportunity to challenge his tormentor to a duel when the latter angrily implies that Hornblower is cheating (in front of officers from another ship) and then pointedly refuses to apologize. the first time they are to duel, Hornblower receives a Tap on the Head by a friend, who fights the duel and is killed in his place. They end up in a duel later over a separate matter, Hornblower dismisses his opponent as Not Worth Killing, and the other guy is shot dead by The Captain when he tries to stab Hornblower in the back... which isn't what happened in the books at all.
  • Call Back: In "The Wrong War/The Frogs and the Lobsters," Horatio asks Archie how it feels to be back "on this side of the channel" (i.e., in France). This references the previous episode, "The Duchess and the Devil," in which both were prisoners of the Spanish.
  • Catapult Nightmare: Archie in "The Duchess and the Devil," with accompanying gasp of "Simpson!"
  • Chekhov's Gun: In "The Duchess and the Devil," Kennedy speaks briefly of being put in a hole in the ground with no room to stand up or lie down as punishment for attempting to escape. Naturally, later on, Horatio spends some time in this hole when he takes the blame for a poorly-executed escape attempt by a subordinate.
  • Composite Character: Archie Kennedy is a composite of various minor characters throughout the novels. He is notably given actions of an unnamed sailor in "Even Chance" by having a seizure during a raid, forcing Horatio to knock him out to keep him quiet, and Lt. Bracegirdle's lines in "The Wrong War."
  • Convulsive Seizures: Archie in his early appearances. They seem to be at least somewhat stress-induced.
  • Cool Boat: The Indefatigable, most prominently.
  • Cruel Mercy: Horatio to Simpson, after being given a free shot at the latter who had just cheated in their duel. After letting Simpson beg for his life, Horatio decides he is Not Worth Killing and spares him, letting him live in utter humiliation after exposing his cowardice.
  • Cunning Linguist: Hornblower is fluent in French, and uses this skill both to act as a translator and to try and slip past the enemy from time to time. He later gets the opportunity to learn Spanish after failing to bluff his way past a Spanish fleet and ends up in a Spanish prison.[1]
  • Cut Himself Shaving: Horatio tries to pass off his bruises after being beaten by Simpson as the result of an accidental fall. His superior officer doesn't take this excuse and punishes Horatio for lying, indicating that he knew Horatio had fought with someone, but without knowing whom there was no way to punish the other party -- which means Simpson gets away with it.
  • Dawson Casting: Horatio, 17 years old as of the first film, was played by 25-year-old Ioan Gruffudd.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Captain Pellew, who has the "deadpan" part down so well that it takes Horatio forever to figure out when he's joking. Archie Kennedy is also this, especially by The Frogs and the Lobsters.
    • Bush in his first scene establishes himself as this.

 Bush: Interesting welcoming ceremony, Mr Hornblower.

  • Death of the Hypotenuse: Depending on how invested you are in the Hornblower/Archie Ho Yay, you could see the fate of Mariette as this.
  • Does Not Like Spam: Lieutenant Bush claims to particularly dislike turnips.
  • Dramatic Irony: Archie's cheerfully oblivious line "What do you suppose they'll do with him? You can't kill a king!" in the first episode. Referring to Louis XVI.
  • Driven to Suicide: Archie in "The Duchess and the Devil" tries to starve himself to death. Unsuccessfully, thanks to Horatio.
    • Also Captain Hammond after his actions inadvertently bring about his nephew's death.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: Bracegirdle in Duty - actually, dropped an exploding cannon ball on him... the bastards.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: According to Simpson, in the first episode, Clayton is a fan of this. Though considering he has to live with Simpson, this isn't at all surprising.
  • Dying Moment of Awesome: Archie Kennedy, whose final act is to falsely confess to mutiny to save Horatio's life.
  • Enemy Eats Your Lunch: Simpson in his first scene.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Horatio's is probably during the Inquisition scene, when he proves he's not one to go down that easily.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Many members of the main cast, including Ioan Gruffudd in the title role, Jamie Bamber as Archie Kennedy, Paul McGann as Lt. Bush, and Robert Lindsay as Captain Pellew.
  • Everything Sounds Sexier in French: From The Frogs and the Lobsters, Mariette the school teacher. Might also double as a Composite Character for Maria, the daughter of Horatio's landlady and first wife and Marie Ladon, daughter-in-law of the nobleman who sheltered Hornblower and his men when they escaped captivity, and with whom he had an affair.
  • Executive Meddling: The Forrester estate would only let Mutiny and Retribution film if Archie Kennedy was written out. (Not unreasonably, since his friendship with Horatio was changing Horatio's characterization too drastically from the source.) The writers convinced them to at least let him die on screen. They then pulled a fast one and had Archie perform a Heroic Sacrifice to save Horatio. And the estate couldn't do anything about it.
  • Face Framed in Shadow: Simpson's first appearance, and the first indication (along with well-placed ominous music) that he is an antagonist.
  • Fake American: The Irish/English actress Camilla Power as American Betsy Bonaparte.
  • Falling Into His Arms: When Horatio and Mariette are getting out of Muzillac, she leaps from a window and he offers to catch her -- but fails, and she injures herself in landing.
  • Fearless Fool: Averted. A howitzer shell lands on the deck near Hornblower and the other officers aboard Hotspur. He quickly dives down to snuff the fuse before the shell can explode. When Bush compliments him on his heroism later, Hornblower takes offense, due to the fact that he was terrified that he was about to be blown to shreds. Bush merely remarks that this only makes his heroism more noteworthy.
  • First-Name Basis: Significant in that most of the characters are on a last name basis with each other, the naval hierarchy being what it is -- Horatio and Archie are on first name terms except when referring to each other in a formal context.
  • Foreshadowing: Archie's line about Acting Captain being a fitting title for Buckland can be viewed this way as it seems to echo Clayton's earlier line regarding Captain Keane ("If ever there was a man more wrongly named ... "). Both the phrasing and the sentiment are very similar, and the arcs concerned with the aforementioned captains both end in the deaths of the characters speaking the lines.
  • Forgotten Fallen Friend: Clayton is a semi-aversion: his sacrifice clearly has an impact on Horatio and even threatens his reputation when he first joins the Indefatigable, as Pellew notes that he does not think much of men who let others fight their battles for them, but Archie, who had been serving with the former for far longer, looks sad for all of two seconds before getting distracted by the excitement over going to war.
    • Archie himself is never mentioned again after his death, but this is more justifiable as considerable time appears to have passed before the beginning of Series Three.
  • Gentleman Snarker: Edrington.
  • Good Looking Privates: By no means everyone. But it gives us William Bush, Archie Kennedy, Mr. Wellard, Major "M'Lord" Edrington, Sir Edward Pellew, Mr. Oldroyd, Mr. Matthews, Jack Hammond, any number of extras, and of course Hornblower himself, who has very, very pretty hair.
  • Go Out with a Smile: Archie, albeit a somewhat tearful-looking one.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: Oh-so-averted. Maritime medical care in the 19th-century means blood is spurting everywhere; a boat of men gets blown to pieces with chunks flying in all directions; and a man shoots himself in the temple on-screen. Surprisingly gory for something that has pretensions towards respectability -- it's no wonder that multiple characters throw up, yes, on-screen. Not recommended for the squeamish.
  • Grey and Gray Morality: The Royalist French forces and the Republican civilians in The Frogs And The Lobsters. The plot deliberately skips back and forth on whom to sympathize with. For instance, in one scene we see the Comte to return to his old residence to find it looted and used as a storage and a ruin, as well as his priceless art collection used as firewood. The next moment he is on the town square, haply executing town officials and residents, who were all former peasants who were finally granted a social upgrade through republicanism.
    • Mariette points this out by saying that the guillotine is the true lord and master in France, and both the royalist and republican armies are the same.
  • Happily Married: It's an odd example since they're antagonists and only seen in one episode but it's clear that Colonel and Senora Ortega are this. When they're together they tend to be seen holding hands, or exchanging loving looks, or smiling at each other. Their introduction is even a shot of them passionately kissing on top of the fortress that the heroes are attacking.
  • Heroic BSOD: Captain Pellew has a shortlived one when one of the French corvettes explodes after receiving a broadside from the Papillon at point blank range, setting off the ship's powder magazine. War Is Hell, ships sink, and men die, but generally not usually so... violently, given the setting.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Archie Kennedy, who takes the blame for a mutiny so Horatio wouldn't be hanged.
    • And earlier on, Midshipman Clayton, who knocks Hornblower out before a duel and takes his place.
  • Heterosexual Life Partners: Matthews and Styles. Horatio and Kennedy. Horatio and Bush.

 Matthews: (While Styles dangles precariously off the side of the ship) Why is it I can never find you when I need you?

  • Hey, It's That Guy!: Fans may later recognize Horatio as Mr. Fantastic, Archie as Lee Adama or Bush as the Eighth Doctor. Or "I". Also, young Jack Hammond is Tom Riddle.
  • Hidden Depths: Archie apparently has a great love of theatre, particularly Shakespeare, and is able to recognise a Drury Lane actress while suffering the effects of trying to starve himself to death.
  • Honour Before Reason: In "The Duchess and the Devil" Horatio convinces the prison commandant to let him and his men rescue the survivors of the wrecked Almeria, by giving his word that they will all return to prison if they survive. When the rescue is successful (mostly) and the rescue party and survivors are picked up by the Indy, Horatio nonetheless insists on leaving the ship because he gave his word that he would return. His men agree to go with him even when offered the chance to stay on the Indefatigable, in order to honour the word he gave on their behalf.
  • I Gave My Word: Horatio proposes to Maria out of guilt at the end of Loyalty. In the beginning of Duty, Bush reminds him that he still has time to change his mind, but Hornblower refuses because he had given his word.
    • He also does this at the end of The Duchess And The Devil, where he insists on being allowed to return to the Spanish prison because he gave his word that he would not attempt escape while rescuing the sailors.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: In the Even Chance, Captain Pellew manages to expertly shoot a running man in the chest about one hundred metres away with a weapon that is accurate to thirty metres. Mr Bracegirdle asks for permission to compliment him about it. It is granted.
    • Archie demonstrates incredible skill in "Retribution", when he shoots a man off a tower at what looks like a few hundred metres with a flintlock pistol.
  • Incurable Cough of Death: Finch in "The Fire Ships." Doesn't take him long to go from coughing to dead, but that is also because of being on half-rations, which can't have helped his health.
  • Inelegant Blubbering: Horatio at the end of "The Wrong War / The Frogs And The Lobsters."
  • In the Back: Simpson tries to do this to Horatio.
  • In-Series Nickname: Dreadnought Foster, Black Charlie Hammond. Also the Duchess invariably calls Horatio "Mister Haitch."
  • Insane Admiral: Captain Sawyer.
  • Instant Waking Skills: Horatio demonstrates these on a number of occasions, taking a matter of seconds in "The Duchess and the Devil" to get out of his hammock and on deck, ready to deal with the situation at hand. Could be a realistic case as living on board ship would require one to be accustomed to odd sleeping hours, due to watches, and to be able to be alert upon waking.
  • Killed Off for Real: Among the main characters, Archie, who had interfered too much with canon to be allowed to live.
  • Last-Second Word Swap: You can't really swear at a Captain's nephew.

 Lt. Bush: Learn your signals, you little b-- gentleman.

  • Lethal Chef: Styles in "Loyalty."
  • Made of Explodium: Notably, one of the French corvettes in The Even Chance and the Spanish Fort in Retribution. Justified in both cases due to their powder magazines going off. Black Powder was so unstable, it could almost be this trope's Most Triumphant Example.
  • Master Actor: Katherine Cobham, in her disguise as The Duchess of Wharfedale. Does such a good job acting her part that if Archie and later de Vergesse hadn't recognised her, she would have been escorted home with absolutely no one suspecting she wasn't who she seemed.

 Kitty: She exists, and exactly as I played her.

  • Military Maverick: Arguably, Hornblower.
  • Miniseries
  • Moe Couplet: Reserved, serious, unemotional Horatio and cheerful (whenever he's not being put through hell), high-spirited, outgoing Archie.
  • More Expendable Than You: More on trope page.
  • Motor Mouth: Archie's first scene consists of him talking Horatio's ear off, conveniently getting in some important bits of plot exposition as well. This makes it all the more noticeable when he goes completely silent the moment Simpson arrives.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Simpson inflicts this on Horatio after the Inquisition.
  • Not Worth Killing: Horatio tells Jack Simpson that he's not worth the powder it would take to shoot him. Captain Pellew disagrees.
  • Not So Stoic: Horatio's usual composure is shattered a couple of times over the course of the series, but the two worst are probably in "The Duchess and the Devil" when he realises that Archie's been slowly killing himself and he hadn't even noticed and in "The Wrong War" when Mariette is shot while they try to escape.
  • The Obi-Wan: Captain Pellew, with the interesting twist that he sometimes pretends to be furious with Horatio just to mess with him. It takes Horatio some time to figure out when Pellew is joking.
  • Oblivious to Love: Horatio in Series Three. Maria is very evidently crazy about him, but he continually refers to her as a friend and treats her as such. They do get married eventually, but it's clearly out of a sense of duty and friendship on his part.
  • Off with His Head: Moncoutant and his personal guillotine.
  • Outrun the Fireball: Wellard does this in Retribution.
  • Plucky Middie: This is used and averted in the two midshipmen shown in Series Three. Orrock is competent, brave, knows his signals, and generally has it together. Hammond is inept and panicky and only seems to be there because his uncle is influential enough.
  • Power Trio: Horatio (ego), Bush (superego), and Kennedy (id) form this in Retribution.

 Buckland: You three! You're so full of yourselves...and of each other.

  • Pretty Boy: Archie Kennedy's innocent blue eyes, fluffy ginger hair and fine facial features would certainly make him qualify. He has quite a few fans.
  • Put on a Bus: Oldroyd after the first series.
  • Rousing Speech: Pellew gives a very effective one to the crew of the Indefatigable in the first episode.
  • Sanity Slippage: Happens to Captain Sawyer in Mutiny/Retribution. He was pretty unstable and erratic towards the start, but the events of the episode only made his state worse.
  • Say My Name: One site kept track of the number of times Horatio said "Archie" per episode. "The Duchess and the Devil" has a total of 21 -- most of them in the scene in which Archie tries to starve himself to death.
  • Secret Stab Wound: Archie in Retribution.
  • Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: Captain Sawyer is erratic, violent, paranoid, and believes his lieutenants are conspiring against him. Because of this behavior, his lieutenants...begin conspiring against him.
  • Silent Scapegoat: Archie at the end of "Retribution", when he confesses in front of a court to pushing Captain Sawyer down the hold. It's debatable whether he's ever really believed, but as he's legally pronounced guilty it still counts.
  • Shout-Out: In "The Duel", to "Hamlet":

 Clayton: Damned unsporting of the Everlasting to have fixed his canon 'gainst self-slaughter, if you ask me.

  • Soft Water: "It's only water, you won't break anything!" This as our heroes are about to jump off a very tall cliff.
    • Justified, as staying up on the cliff means they'll break everything when the Spanish Fort explodes.
  • El Spanish-O: In one of the movies, a British sailor instructs some French prisoners to come "this-a way-e". They do actually understand his instructions, but presumably because he was gesturing heavily, rather than because of anything he was saying.
  • Subtext/RapeAsBackstory: It's implied, though not explicitly stated, that Jack Simpson sexually abused Archie Kennedy before Horatio ever came on board. It is explicitly stated that Simpson is the cause of Kennedy's epilepsy.
  • Sugar and Ice Personality: Horatio is reserved and formal with most people, even beyond the point required by naval hierarchy. However, there are a handful of people with whom he shows a warmer side, including Archie and occasionally Bush, but with the latter he switches between the two. The scene where he asks Bush to be his first lieutenant is a good example of his more open side.
  • So Proud of You: Pellew gives a subtle one to Horatio in Series Three.

 Pellew: You know, Hornblower, it's very hard for a father to see his children grow up ...

  • Sympathy for the Devil: Horatio expresses sympathy towards Captain Sawyer, even while acknowledging that if he stayed in command of the ship, the result would be bad for everyone concerned. He says as much in "Retribution."

 Horatio (about Sawyer): I believe he has paid the price for that bravery ... and is paying for it right now.

  • Tap on the Head:
    • An Even Chance: Mr Midshipman Clayton does this to Mr Midshipman Hornblower just before Hornblower is due to go fight a duel with Mr Midshipman Simpson, knocking him out with a belaying pin and taking his place as his second. Simpson is wounded, Clayton is gutshot, living just long enough for Hornblower to come round, reach the shore and listen to his Last Words.
    • Later in the same film, when Mr. Midshipman Kennedy is suffering a seizure while they attempt to sneak up on a French warship, Mr. Midshipmen Hornblower gives him a Tap on the Head with the tiller, before leaving the unconscious man in the boat while they board the ship. Mr. Midshipman Simpson casts the boat adrift during the ensuing battle and we don't see the man again until two movies later.
  • Temporary Love Interest: Mariette, who exists solely to have a brief romance with Horatio and then die.
  • Those Two Guys: Matthews and Styles by the time of Mutiny.
  • Thousand-Yard Stare: Archie does this briefly in the first episode, during the scene when Simpson returns. Also later on, before the Papillon mission. This is pretty much Archie's specialty, actually.
  • War Was Beginning: The titlecards inform us that a revolution is breaking out in France, while the British are still asleep at their anchorage in Spithead. Archie and Hornblower (well, mostly Archie) discuss this revolution and the implications of them arresting King Louis XVI.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Colonel le Marquis de Moncoutant would shoot a child for singing the Marseillaise, if Horatio wasn't there to stop him.
  • Word of God: According to Jamie Bamber, Archie is the third son of a Scottish lord. Given his status as a Composite Character, the majority of his backstory is composed of either the actors' and writers' statements about him, or Fanon.
  • You Did Everything You Could: Archie says this almost word-for-word to Horatio after Mariette's death and the failure of the Muzillac mission.
  • Zipping Up the Bodybag: Given the setting, it's no surprise that this is done by sewing the deceased sailors' up in their hammocks with needle and thread.


  1. His French was actually quite convincing, according to the Spanish commander. However, one of the Spanish officers personally knew the French officer who should have been in command of the ship Hornblower had recently captured.
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