7 July 2001 | Philby-3
Fine entertainment for us armchair sailors
Now here's some uncomplicated Sunday night entertainment for us armchair sailors. Adventure and action on the high sea and the odd hot country, lots of friction among the officers and men, a captain nearly round the twist, and of course the heroic Horny who saves the situation. He winds up before a court martial in Jamaica but we need not fear for him with his old captain and mentor Sir Edward Pellow presiding.
This show cost a lot of money, though I don't think they went as far as James Cameron did in `Titanic' and build a full-sized replica of an 18th century ship of the line. The re-creation of the period detail weapons, uniforms, boats and tackle, the wardroom, even the brutal medical procedures, brings you right into the action. The personality clashes between officers seem a bit contrived at times particularly the Billy Budd syndrome older officers of marginal competence resenting their brighter juniors but the fellowship amongst Horny and his mates rings true.
Ioan Gruffudd is darkly romantic in appearance but uses this somewhat brooding exterior to show Horny as someone who thinks a bit and then acts quickly and decisively, a very good combination in military matters. He makes it plausible that his friends, Kennedy (James Bamber) and Bush (Paul McGann) should support him, even at considerable risk to themselves.
As is usual in this sort of production, the major and minor roles are all well done. David Warner is convincing as Captain Sawyer, a sort of nautical King Lear, and Nicolas Smith as the aging, fearful first lieutenant Buckland, fits the bill well (albeit playing the role as a less devious version of Jeremy from Kavanagh Q.C.) There is a nicely judged performance by David Rintoul as the wily ship's doctor, and Dobbin is very effective as the Captains's loyal supporter Hobbs. Robert Lindsay does a good senior partner number as Commodore Sir Edward Pellew, actually an historical figure with some islands in the Gulf of Carpentaria named after him, though Hornblower himself is total fiction.
It's funny. In some ways it might have been a film about a law firm, such is the universality of professional culture. Deference to seniority has to be matched against the need to exercise independent professional judgment. Just obeying orders is the lot of the mere technician. A professional officer has to cultivate independence of mind in a milleu that demands obedience to orders. Not an easy task and we can well understand how it proves too much for the unfortunate Buckland.
Anyway, good derring-do stuff, even if Horny doesn't get to kiss anyone.