Hornblower: Loyalty (2003)


Loyalty is the seventh 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.


The film starts out in 1803 in Cape Clear, Ireland, where HMS Retribution, commanded by Commander Hornblower, has retaken HMS Hotspur from the French. Near the end of the fighting, a cutter is spotted sailing towards Hotspur, with news that the war with France is over. The peace lasts a year and the sailors and officers of the Royal Navy languish on half pay. Meanwhile, Napoleon is making plans across the Channel.

In Portsmouth, Hornblower’s promotion to commander was not confirmed, nor does he have a navy posting. As a result, he has to pawn many of his possessions to survive during the peace. By chance, he runs into Lieutenant Bush, also on half pay. Later that night, Hornblower takes Bush to an exclusive establishment, where he plays whist with Admiral Edward Pellew, Captain Hammond, and Hammond’s nephew Jack, who aspires to serve under Hornblower. Hornblower’s whist winnings are enough to pay the rent he owes to his landlady, Mrs. Mason; Mrs. Mason’s daughter Maria is attracted to him.

Later, Pellew gives Hornblower command of HMS Hotspur and orders to sail to Brest to spy on Napoleon and take a Frenchman, Major Côtard, to a secret rendezvous with a trusted friend in France. Bush, Hornblower’s first lieutenant, signs on a crew for Hotspur, including Boatswain Matthews, Irishman Wolfe, and Boatswain’s Mate Styles. Jack Hammond also comes aboard, as a midshipman, though his eagerness is overshadowed by his apparent ineptitude and cowardice.

Off Brest, Hotspur spots a semaphore telegraph reporting their presence. There is a tense moment when a much more powerful French frigate, Loire, sails toward Hotspur. Fortunately, war has not broken out (without Hornblower’s knowledge), and the two ships merely exchange salutes. But there is no sign of Major Côtard’s contact, and it is very suspicious that Loire just happens to be at the rendezvous point. Hornblower and Côtard reconnoitre, disguised as fishermen. They discover an encamped French invasion force. Spotted, they are forced to flee. Loire returns, this time to fight, but Hornblower manages to outfox and disable the enemy ship before returning to England to warn Pellew.

The British fleet arrives off Brest and Admiral Pellew makes plans to attack the French fort based on Hornblower’s report: the French fleet is anchored in the outer harbour, protected by a shore battery. Since all British movements are immediately reported by a semaphore, Pellew assigns Hornblower to destroy it, while Captain Hammond will lead a party of Marines to take the shore battery. These two actions will enable Pellew to launch a pre-emptive strike on the French fleet. As Hornblower heads toward the semaphore, Wolfe, one of his men, slips away. After Hornblower completes his mission, he and his party are captured by French troops. Wolfe is revealed to be a traitor, working to liberate Ireland from Britain with French support. Wolfe reveals that another agent is a senior member of the Royal Navy.

Captain Hammond’s party lands, only to be forced to surrender by Wolfe and his waiting men. Wolfe fires Hammond’s prearranged signal, informing the fleet the battery has been taken. The British fleet sails into an ambush. Hornblower and his men manage to escape and blow up the fort, enabling Pellew to countermand his withdrawal and attack the French ships. Hornblower and his men then run into Wolfe and Captain Hammond, who is revealed to be the other Irish traitor. Hammond orders Wolfe to kill Hornblower and his greatly outnumbered men. However, Bush arrives with reinforcements. A battle ensues, during which Jack Hammond dies bravely. Wolfe escapes, while Hammond, distraught over the death of his nephew, commits suicide. Afterward, Hornblower’s report states that Captain Hammond died heroically and honourably for England, to avoid inflaming the many Irishmen serving in the Royal Navy.

Back in Portsmouth, Hornblower visits the Masons, but has an argument with Maria. As Hornblower is about to leave, Mrs. Mason tells him Maria wept for him while he was gone. Horatio then asks Maria to marry him; she accepts.


  • Ioan Gruffudd as Commander Horatio Hornblower.
  • Robert Lindsay as Admiral Pellew.
  • Paul McGann as 1st Lieutenant William Bush.
  • Paul Copley as Matthews, Boatswain.
  • Sean Gilder as Styles, Steward.
  • Lorcan Cranitch as Wolfe.
  • Ian McElhinney as Captain Hammond.
  • Greg Wise as Major Côtard.
  • Tony Haygarth as Master Prowse.
  • Julia Sawalha as Maria Mason.
  • Barbara Flynn as Mrs. Mason.
  • Christian Coulson as Midshipman Jack Hammond.
  • Ron Cook as Steward James Doughty.
  • Jonathan Forbes as Midshipman Charles Orrock.
  • Jim McManus as Pawnbroker.
  • John Sheahan as Irishman.
  • Neil Conrich as Bailiff.
  • Simon Delaney as French Midshipman.


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): Niall Leonard.
  • 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 (2006) (Australia) (DVD).
    • Reel DVD (2006) (Australia) (DVD).
  • Original Network: ITV1.
  • Release Date: 05 January 2003 (UK) and 02 December 2003 (US).
  • Running Time: 120 minutes (with adverts).
  • Rating: PG.
  • Country: UK.
  • Language: English.

Video Link

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