Hornblower: Duty (2003)


Duty is the Eighth of eight Hornblower television adaptations relating the exploits of Horatio Hornblower, the protagonist in a series of novels and short stories by C.S. Forester.

It is based on the books by C.S. Forester, particularly Hornblower and the Hotspur.


Commander Horatio Hornblower, captain of HMS Hotspur, and Maria Mason are married. However, Admiral Pellew arrives and gives Hornblower his next mission: HMS Grasshopper, commanded by old friend Captain Bracegirdle, has gone missing while on patrol off the coast of France. Hornblower is to find her. He gives Hornblower permission to sleep ashore with his bride on their honeymoon night.

The next day, Hornblower sets sail. As a wedding gift, Pellew gives Hornblower his steward, James Doughty, an accomplished cook, who replaces Styles. On a stormy night, the Hotspur rescues the passengers of a small boat in danger of sinking off the coast of France, including a man claiming to be Swiss and his American wife. The man speaks with a strong French accent, raising suspicions. The American woman tells Hornblower that they saw a ship get stranded just to the north of them.

Hornblower finds the Grasshopper grounded and much of the crew drowned. The rest, after surviving the wreck have been killed defending their captain from French troops. As Hornblower and his men are attacked by the French, they find and rescue Captain Bracegirdle among the casualties alive and distraught at the loss of his ship and crew. It is revealed that Wolfe, from the previous film, commands the French troops. They return to the waiting Hotspur.

Back in England, Pellew has received orders from the Admiralty to find a young couple, the daughter of a wealthy American merchant and a Frenchman, who are somewhere at sea near France. Meanwhile, off the French coast, Wolfe’s French troops try to take the Hotspur but fail, though Wolfe escapes. Afterward, under questioning by Hornblower, the “Swiss” passenger confesses he is Jérôme-Napoléon Bonaparte, the younger brother of Napoleon. Bracegirdle suggests returning to England, with their valuable passengers right away, but Hornblower chooses to complete Bracegirdle’s original mission, that of investigating French military activities on shore. The crew, especially Styles, deeply resent their French passengers. Back in England, Pellew learns from a diplomatic service official that Napoleon’s brother and his heiress wife are aboard the Hotspur.

Hornblower, Bracegirdle, and their reconnaissance party discover quantities of French maritime cannons hidden ashore for reasons unknown. Bracegirdle goes off by himself to find out more; he discovers why but before he can reach Hornblower with the information is killed by the French.

Hornblower reports back to Admiral Pellew, who informs him that the diplomatic service has quarantined the Hotspur to keep Jérôme-Napoléon’s presence in England a secret: no one can debark or board, captain included. Stranded on shore Hornblower takes the opportunity to spend three days with Maria.

Hornblower is then ordered to take Jérôme-Napoléon to France and to transfer his wife Betsy to another ship to be sent home to her father in America. Hornblower orders Doughty to make the couple a good meal. Doughty learns Styles has placed a dead rat in the stew he is taking them. This leads to a fistfight during which Doughty accidentally strikes Midshipman Orrock, an offence, according to the Articles of War, punishable by death. Doughty is clapped in irons.

Hornblower explains to Jérôme-Napoléon that he must go ashore alone. This Jérôme does, reluctantly, in the hope of persuading his older brother to welcome his wife. The next day Hornblower and Bush return ashore and discover that the cannons they found earlier had been removed from three frigates anchored in a bay, freeing up enough space to transport 1000 soldiers each. The plan is for Wolfe and 3,000 French soldiers to invade Ireland. Hornblower takes the Hotspur through a dense fog in dangerously shallow water to attack the departing frigates by stealth. He fires upon and disables the first. The other two run aground and collide with each other. Wolfe falls onto the Hotspur, where he is killed trying to shoot Hornblower.

On Christmas Day the Hotspur rendezvous with the Liberty, which will take Betsy to America. Hornblower summons the disgraced steward, Doughty, and, after dropping hints, leaves him alone and unguarded so he can jump ship and swim to the Liberty and freedom in America. Later, it is revealed that Napoleon is pressuring Rome to annul his brother’s marriage. Then Admiral Pellew informs Hornblower that he has been promoted. He reminds his subordinate that, according to long-standing tradition, when a commander-in-chief strikes down his flag he is permitted to make three promotions: midshipman to lieutenant, lieutenant to commander, and commander to post-captain. Pellew promotes Hornblower to post-captain. Hornblower receives further good news from his wife Maria: she is pregnant.


  • Ioan Gruffudd as Commander/Captain Horatio Hornblower.
  • Robert Lindsay as Admiral/Admiral of the Fleet Pellew.
  • Paul McGann as 1st Lieutenant William Bush.
  • Paul Copley as Matthews, Boatswain.
  • Sean Gilder as Styles, Steward.
  • Lorcan Cranitch as Wolfe.
  • Tony Haygarth as Master Prowse.
  • Julia Sawalha as Maria Mason Hornblower.
  • Barbara Flynn as Mrs. Mason.
  • Ron Cook as Steward James Doughty.
  • Jonathan Forbes as Midshipman Charles Orrock.
  • Jonathan Coy as Captain Bracegirdle.
  • Jim Carter as Etheridge.
  • David Birkin as Jérôme.
  • Camilla Power as Betsy.
  • Timothy Deenihan as Maguire.
  • Richard Syms as Parson.


The series received four nominations for the 2004 56th Primetime Emmy Awards: Outstanding Miniseries, Outstanding Art Direction for a Miniseries or Movie, Outstanding Costumes for a Miniseries, Movie or a Special and Outstanding Single-Camera Sound Mixing for a Miniseries or Movie, although it is not clear whether they were for Loyalty or Duty (which was broadcast one day after Loyalty) or both.

Hornblower Series

You can find a full index and overview of Hornblower here.

Production & Filming Details

  • Director(s): Andrew Grieve.
  • Producer(s):
    • Andrew Benson … producer.
    • Michele Buck … executive producer, Granada/LWT.
    • Liz Bunton … line producer.
    • Delia Fine … executive producer, A&E Network.
    • Emilio Nunez … supervising producer, A&E Network.
  • Writer(s): Stephen Churchett.
  • Music: John E. Keane.
  • Cinematography: Chris O’Dell.
  • Editor(s): Keith Palmer.
  • Production:
    • A+E Networks (in association with).
    • Meridian Broadcasting.
    • United Film and Television Productions.
  • Distributor(s):
    • A&E Home Video (2003) (USA) (DVD).
    • A&E Home Video (2003) (USA) (VHS).
    • A+E Networks (2003) (USA) (TV).
    • Cinema Club (2003) (UK) (DVD).
    • Cinema Club (2003) (UK) (VHS).
    • ITV – Independent Television (2003) (UK) (TV).
    • ITV DVD (2006) (UK) (DVD).
    • NHK-BS2 (2003) (Japan) (TV).
    • Reel Corporation (2005) (Australia) (DVD).
    • Reel DVD (2005) (Australia) (DVD).
  • Original Network: ITV1.
  • Release Date: 06 January 2003 (UK) and 03 December 2003 (US).
  • Running Time: 120 minutes (with adverts).
  • Rating: PG.
  • Country: UK.
  • Language: English.

Video Link

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