I think The Duchess and the Devil is my favorite of the Horatio Hornblower franchise. A&E really lived up to their name when they created this little series of stories. I have no idea just how much it cost them to build or acquire ships for the scenes which required an actual ship, not a fake ship in a studio or creative computer graphics. In 1998 we didn’t have the sophisticated computer graphics for movies. Most of us software developers only had VGA monitors.
Ioan Gruffudd plays midshipman Horatio Hornblower. A naive young lad he joined Her Majesty’s navy out of a sense of honor and duty to country. He is not wise to the ways of the world and honestly thinks every man aboard the ship is just like him at heart.
The level of acting comes in second only to the writing which comes in second only to the sets. Through the short Horatio Hornblower series of films we watch this incredible actor go from young lad to a man learning many a hard lesson along the way.
Our Third Installment – The Duchess and the Devil
The Duchess and the Devil has Horatio grappling with questions of honor and how to behave around women at a formal meal. Having lead something of a sheltered life followed by complete isolation from women while on a ship crewed by only men, Horatio truly is a fish out of water and it is funny.
He and a small group of men had a spot of good fortune, encountering French troops coming ashore for fresh water. Capturing them, taking their uniforms, and rowing boat back to the ship to capture it. Both he and the men who serve under him are about to be rich. Well, richer than any thought they ever would be. You see, part of the pay for sailors back then was the spoils of war. It cost well over 1000 pounds sterling to build a ship but if you dangled that out for your navy to be divided among the crew who captured a still sea worthy ship, they would opt to board it rather than sink it.
Think about all of this from the standpoint of the captain and crew. If an enemy ship was within range your gun deck could easily put half a dozen or so cannon ball through the hull below the water line, then sail out of range. That ship would sink because the crew couldn’t possibly patch and bail water fast enough. Minimal risk for your ship and crew. Lots of dead or captured enemy and one less ship to deal with. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that without a financial incentive nobody will try boarding and capturing another ship.
All Good Things at a Price
As with all good things that come to Horatio it had a price. He and his band of merry men had to sail that ship back to the nearest English navy port in order to collect their bounty. Oh, and they had to take the French prisoners with them. Life took an evil turn when a thick bank of fog had them sail right into the middle of the French navy and then the fog lifted.
The honor and thought provoking portion of this tale occurs while he and his men are in a French prison. I will say no more lest I spoil the film for you.
You really should own the entire Horatio Hornblower series.