Amazing Adaptations: Hornblower


I suppose technically THIS should have been the first Amazing Adaptations post, because (re)reading the Hornblower books and thinking about the Hornblower mini-series gave me the idea for this feature in the first place. Really, it’s not even a proper mini-series. It’s more like a collection of movies based on the Hornblower books, starting with Mr Midshipman Hornblower and going until Hornblower and the Hotspur.

The show does deviate from the books quite a lot, though, which I know might irritate some people. One of the most obvious changes is in the character of Lt. Archie Kennedy (played by Jamie Bamber), who gets about one line in the entire (book) series and then never shows up again (that I know of, anyway). In the show, he’s elevated to a much more prominent role in Hornblower’s life, and he helps keep the drama/tension/etc. up too through being a big ol’ woobie later on in the series.

Enough about Archie– I don’t actually like him all that much, tbh– let’s talk about HORATIO HORNBLOWER, aka Ioan Gruffudd being oh-so-very handsome and a good actor and better than he’s been in, like, anything else. Possibly he shines so brightly in Horatio Hornblower because the production values are so much higher than most of the other things he’s been in.1 I think having other excellent actors as the supporting cast helps too, though, including Robert Lindsay who plays Captain Pellew and Paul McGann who plays Lt. Bush (see my review of Lieutenant Hornblowerfor more about THAT).

Paul McGann as Lt. Bush

But the rest of the show, the part that’s not about the actors, holds up pretty darned well on its own. For instance! The costumes. They’re amazing! The sets are also v. good; my favorite bit is how the ships don’t actually look like they’re on a sound stage, which can ruin an otherwise decent movie/show. And the storylines themselves are also exciting– somewhat changed from the books, yes, but once you cut out all the internal monologuing Hornblower gets up to, you’ve got to fill the space with SOMETHING and it might as well be swordfights.

If you’re a fan of the Hornblower book series, I’m fairly certain you’d also like this adaptation. Though it’s not a “perfect” copy of the books, it’s close enough to the sentiment/tone of them that I don’t see how anyone (unless they were a snob) could object to me labelling Hornblower an Amazing Adaptation. If you’ve never read the books but like Napoleonic war stories with handsome men running around in tight-fitting trousers, you’d no doubt like Hornblower, too! And if you’re a historical fiction buff, I think the inaccuracies in the show are less blinding than in other places, and so– well, YOU know.

EVERYONE should watch this show, if you have even an inkling of affection for any of the things I’ve just talked about. There are eight movies/episodes, about 90 minutes each, and you can get the box set fairly cheaply when the DVD sales start up in the fall. You can get through the whole lot in a weekend without even trying, and in fact I’m going to follow my own advice and do just that. Huzzah Hornblower! May my DVDs never scratch nor break nor get lost in my yet-to-be-unpacked moving boxes.

Did I mention that it won two Emmys? One for Outstanding Single Camera Picture Editing for a Mini-series or a Movie, and one for Outstanding Mini-series.

Oh! And btw, David Warner plays crazy Captain Sawyer.

Recommended episodes: The Even Chance (aka The Duel), Mutiny

More information: IMDB | Wikipedia
Buy at: Amazon


  1. like this thing, for instance.

2 thoughts on “Amazing Adaptations: Hornblower”

    1. You should totally read the books and compare! I like the show a bit more because it’s not SO tightly focused in on Hornblower’s inner problems, but it IS more (melo)dramatic than the books are. I suppose it just depends on what sort of stories you like!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.