Watching the Hornblower Series and What I Love About It
Updated: Oct 3, 2020
Most people I know have either never heard of the Hornblower series or grew up watching it with their dad. I had never heard of it up until a few months ago. However, now it’s one of my favorite shows of all time that I’ll be sharing with all of my friends! It’s got everything you’d want for an "Age of Sail" period drama - amazing British actors, impeccable costume designs, beautiful ships and locations, and an engaging plotline.
Horatio Hornblower is an award-winning period drama produced by A&E. Separated into eight parts, the series started up in 1998 and went on until 2003. It follows the story of a midshipman who joins the British Navy from the French Revolution through the Napoleonic Wars, who also happens to undergo many trials and adventures along the way.
The Main Hero
Horatio Hornblower (Ioan Gruffudd, Fantastic Four) starts out as shy, depressed, and prone to seasickness.
“An infernal piece of bad luck,”
as one of his shipmates says. But aside from his gloomy state, he always does the right thing. So much so, that you almost wish he’d slip up so you could see how it all plays out. Nevertheless, I love his character. He goes through quite a lot during this series, and I love how much growth we get to see from him. Towards the end, I can see his dark side come out, which I wish we could’ve explored more had the series not ended when it did.
During the course of the first two episodes, we become acquainted with Captain Sir Edward Pellew played by Robert Lindsay (My Family). Pellew is a captain who likes to see his men live up to their worth and judges them, not from their supposed reputations, but by what he sees them do.
In this respect, Hornblower impresses Pellew immensely. So much so that Hornblower seems to be the only naval officer that can get a promotion with no other connections. But more than just promoting him, Pellew is a father figure to Hornblower. We see their relationship progress throughout the series, and I’m all here for it!
Archie Kennedy (played by Jamie Bamber, Battlestar Galactica) starts out as a midshipman, eventually making his way up to fourth lieutenant towards the end of the series. Archie definitely takes on the sidekick role in many aspects. He continuously looks up to Horatio, even feeling a little jealous at times of his friend’s success.
He’s a light-hearted and excitable character, which is what draws all of us to him! Despite his good qualities, he frequently experiences stress and fear-induced seizures. One character in particular named Jack Simpson contributes to his depressed and hopeless state. At one point, while he was held captive, he tried to starve himself to death until Horatio was able to get him help. He’s had his fair share of dark moments - and has in my opinion gone through the most out of everybody in the series.
In the end, though, Archie strives to do the right thing. He takes the blame for a situation to save his friends and sacrifices himself, and I will forever admire him for that. He would by no means be remembered in the history books, but Hornblower would remember, and that was enough for him.
This series isn’t lacking in romance necessarily, but it’s not the main focus by any means. There are really only two romantic instances, and we don’t see either one until The Frogs and the Lobsters, which is the fourth installment in the series. We start with Mariette, a French schoolteacher who seems to get caught up in the crossfire of executions by Royalists. Horatio quickly falls in love with her and vows to protect her no matter the cost. This doesn’t go well, of course, and, needless to say, it doesn’t end well for them, which is unfortunate because I thought the two of them had great chemistry.
Some time goes by before Mr. H gets another shot at romance. We get introduced to Maria, whose mother allows Horatio to rent out a room in their lodgings. Maria is a shy and sensitive girl who attaches herself to Horatio, and I’m not sure what to make of Horatio’s feelings for Maria. It’s clear that he has some amount of affection for her and feels a sense of duty to take care of her, but not much beyond that. He feels somewhat obligated to marry her but neglects her over his duty to his country.
I think Horatio just lacks the balance needed to have a wife. Hornblower is the kind of person who can only give devotion to one thing at a time, and he’ll always choose the sea, so you can sense a conflict happening.
William Bush (played by Paul McGann, Doctor Who) is the most loyal friend and lieutenant you could ask for. He’s a simple-minded man - act first and think later. His top priority is always his captain and how he can keep him safe. This gets in the way at times, but he’s honestly my favorite character in the whole series. Who wouldn’t want a friend who’s going to stick by your side no matter what happens and admires you despite his higher disposition? Also, his quarrels with Styles, one of the shipmates, will never not be funny to me.
There‘s also a fantastic dynamic between Bush, Kennedy, and Hornblower. They all think they know best, but they’ll happily let Hornblower take the lead as long as they do things together. They get into all kinds of danger and tight spots despite only having two episodes with all three of them.
Hornblower is all about making the most of the adventures thrown at you in life. Not only that, but the importance of friendship and learning to trust. And, of course, it has its battle sequences and the history that surrounds this time period. By the end, you can practically picture yourself riding out the waves on a ship, feeling the wind in your hair as you await important orders from a vessel nearby.
I could go on and on with everything I’ve noticed in Hornblower and its many flawed characters, but I encourage you to find out for yourself and come talk to me about what you’ve come to find in this "Age of Sail" series.
You can find the whole series for free here: