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.
The second movie in the series actually brings up a good topic for families with young children. Failing tests. Horatio, like all young junior officers, is required to present himself for a test in order to advance in rank once he has studied and learned some things at sea. This is not a written test. You must remember that much of the population could neither read nor write at this point in history. Large scale public education systems did not exist.
This test was a group of captains asking hypothetical questions to test the knowledge of those presenting themselves. By its very nature the test is both difficult and rigged. Almost everyone fails. There are only so many ships so the navy only needs so many captains and senior officers. Most junior officers wish to be senior officer or captain because the pay and quarters are better.
Our hero is about to fail his test when he is saved by looking out the window to see a fire ship.
Some Background is Needed for The Fire Ship
Keep in mind all ships were wood with canvas sail at the time. A fire, be it deliberate or accidental, could bring death to the crew but in a harbor it could destroy every ship and much of the surrounding village. Leaping to response along with the others saves our hero from an obvious fail, at least for a bit.
One tactic of war at the time was to capture a ship of the enemy and with a small crew under darkness sail it into one of the enemy’s harbors. It would pass the inspection from a distance, flying the correct colors and being a recognized vessel. When they got near enough the small crew would jamb the rudder on a course headed straight for the tightest group of ships, light a large fire on the ship, then flee in a row boat. Even if the enemy sunk the ship it would be sunk in their harbor causing massive traffic problems until somehow removed.
A fire ship is a terrible weapon be it accident or intentional. Every crew tries to keep their ship from it and few men are brave enough to board it. Thankfully, our hero was. As to the rest of the tale, you need to watch the movie to find out.