(CCLaP publishes mini-reviews of both books and movies on a regular basis, none lasting more than a few hundred words. Click here for the full list.)
Horatio Hornblower: Loyalty (movie; 2003)
Written by Niall Leonard, from the original novels by CS Forester
Directed by Andrew Grieve
If I've never mentioned this, I've been spending the last several years very slowly making my way through a remarkable British mini-series centered around a character named Horatio Hornblower; I recently finished almost the last film in the series, in fact, which is why I thought I'd make a mention of it here at CCLaP. Based on a series of surprisingly recent novels by author CS Forester (the last in the series, in fact, wasn't published until 1967), the saga tells the story of a particularly intelligent and charming naval officer during Britannica's fabled "Sea Age," a time of romance and adventure during the late 1700s and early 1800s, in which hardy English peasants became nobles precisely by chasing down both Napoleon and pirates across the world's great ports. And indeed, the original Hornblower novels were infamous long before any of these modern movies were made, sparking the swashbuckling dreams of a million starry-eyed boys from the Edwardian Age all the way to our present days; the movies are simply a result of the books' natural popularity, not the other way around.
Much like Tom Clancey's Jack Ryan, the main strength of the Hornblower series is in watching young Horatio grow and mature within the British military system; the first five entire novels, in fact (which the movies do not cover) concern Hornblower long before he was an officer, showing how his daring exploits and unusual cunning earned him the right to move up in the ranks to begin with. And in fact this is what drew so many people to the British navy in those years in the first place, despite the obvious hardships seen on display in these stories -- it was one of the only places of British society in those Regency times where a person from the lower classes could literally work their way into the upper class, with it otherwise being necessary to be born into a noble family. That's what makes the Hornblower stories so infectious and historical at the same time; they are both adventure tales about the high seas as well as a political look at how British society worked at the time.
These recent film adaptations, then, produced from 1998 to 2004 by British company Meridian and then distributed around the world (they're shown in the US, for example, on the A&E cable network), have all been shot with deliberately higher-than-average budgets, with a real concentration on using smart computer effects to create a much more sweeping vision than television productions usually have. And in fact all of these productions are insanely popular for precisely this reason, and is why I recommend them all as well; between the real ships used for close-ups, the exotic location shooting, and the dream combination of hunky pale British actors on display, this is inexpensive historical drama at its finest, something sure to highly entertain not only existing Hornblower fans but indeed anyone who's ever dreamed of far-off sea battles and sweaty island adventures. The entire series is highly recommended, not just the title mentioned today.
Out of 10: 9.5
P.S. And here's an interesting update about this series -- in 2007, lead actor Ioan Gruffudd (Fantastic Four) mentioned in an interview that no new teleplays will be produced, because of Meridian finding the escalating budgets just too prohibitive. That has freed Gruffudd, then, according to the interview, to pitch a big-budget feature version out in LA, ala that Master and Commander movie from a few years ago that people went so nuts for, with Gruffudd now in a better position than before to succeed because of his rising fame in Hollywood. Hmm!