Hornblower: Retribution (2001)


Retribution is the sixth 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 a continuation of Mutiny (previous film) and is based on the 1952 book Lieutenant Hornblower by C.S. Forester.


In January 1802 in Kingston, Jamaica, Hornblower and the other lieutenants of HMS Renown, Buckland, Bush and Kennedy, face a court-martial on the charge of mutiny. The tribunal consists of Commodore Pellew, Captain Hammond, and Captain Collins. Pellew is very fond of Hornblower, his former subordinate, while Hammond views the lieutenant as an overambitious schemer.

The film flashes back and forth between the events in question six months before (which is also covered by the previous film, Mutiny) and the court-martial. After the disastrous attack on the Spanish fort, Buckland wants to sail to Kingston, but Hornblower suggests they launch a bold surprise night assault on the fort by land and then trap the Spanish ships anchored in the bay beneath the fort. Thirty-three seamen, led by Randall, desert during the night rather than serve under mutineers. Because the desertion occurred under his command, Buckland agrees to Hornblower’s plan to try to salvage his reputation. The landing force, led by Hornblower, Kennedy, and Bush, discovers the deserters all dead. Hornblower concludes they were killed not by the Spanish, but the slaves who have risen up.

Meanwhile, a slave leader, “Colonel” Francois Lefanu, parlays with Buckland, admitting his men mistook the deserters for Spaniards. He demands the British leave Santo Domingo, asserting this is not their fight. Due to Buckland’s blundering, a firefight begins accidentally. The shots alert the Spanish. The landing party charges the fort, but is pinned down by heavy fire. Hornblower discovers a series of tunnels and leads some of the men inside; his quick thinking results in the capture of the fort. Using hot shot, the landing party then uses the fort’s cannons to fire on the fleeing Spanish ships.

After their victory, the British meet Colonel Francisco Manuel Ortega, the Spanish commander, who is strangely anxious to surrender the island to them. They soon discovered why; the fort is under siege by the rebel slaves, and the Spanish are starving. At Hornblower’s urging, Buckland stalls for time, while a cannon is lifted up a cliff to where it can fire on the Spanish ships. Once they demonstrate that the ships are within range of the cannon, Buckland obtains an unconditional surrender. Meanwhile, Hobbs tries to free his long-time commander, Captain Sawyer, but fails. Hobbs then confronts Midshipman Wellard and accuses him of pushing Sawyer down the hold.

As the Spanish are surrendering, the slaves attack the fort. While evacuating the Spanish, now prisoners of war, Buckland orders Hornblower to blow up the fort. Despite an order to the contrary, Bush and Kennedy help Hornblower get safely back. Buckland then gives him command of the Spanish ships. Later that night, however, the Spanish prisoners try to seize Renown. The attempt fails, at least partly due to Hornblower’s quickly leading his crew back aboard Renown. Sawyer and Wellard are killed and Bush and Kennedy injured.

The tribunal members are unimpressed by Buckland’s being surprised in bed by the Spaniards and tied up in his cabin during the battle. Buckland rashly states his belief that Sawyer became mentally unstable because Hornblower pushed him into the hold. Buckland calls on Hobbs to back him, but Hobbs states he does not know. During a recess, Pellew tells Hammond and Collins that instead of hanging Hornblower, they should promote him. Later, to protect Hornblower, a dying Kennedy confesses to the tribunal that he pushed Sawyer.

Commodore Pellew tells Hornblower that one of the Spanish ships has been renamed HMS Retribution and that he has been promoted to commander and is the new captain of Retribution.


  • Ioan Gruffudd as 3rd Lieutenant/Commander Horatio Hornblower.
  • David Warner as Captain James Sawyer.
  • Nicholas Jones as 1st Lieutenant/Acting Captain Buckland.
  • Paul McGann as 2nd Lieutenant William Bush.
  • Jamie Bamber as 4th Lieutenant Archie Kennedy.
  • Paul Copley as Matthews, Boatswain.
  • Sean Gilder as Styles, Boatswain’s Mate.
  • Philip Glenister as Gunner Hobbs.
  • David Rintoul as Dr. Clive.
  • Terence Corrigan as Midshipman Wellard.
  • Gilly Gilchrist as Randall.
  • Paul Brightwell as Sergeant Whiting.
  • Antonio Gil as Colonel Francisco Manuel Ortega.
  • Hugh Quarshie as Francois Lefanu.
  • Katia Caballero as Señora Ortega.
  • Robert Lindsay as Commodore Edward Pellew, 1st Viscount Exmouth.
  • Ian McElhinney as Captain Hammond.
  • John Castle as Captain Collins.

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.
    • Liz Bunton … line producer.
  • Writer(s): Ben Rostul.
  • 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 (2001) (USA) (TV).
    • Cinema Club (2003) (UK) (DVD).
    • Cinema Club (2003) (UK) (VHS).
    • ITV – Independent Television (2002) (UK) (TV).
    • ITV DVD (2006) (UK) (DVD).
    • NHK-BS2 (2003) (Japan) (TV).
    • Reel Corporation (2002) (Australia) (DVD).
    • Reel DVD (2002) (Australia) (DVD).
  • Original Network: ITV1.
  • Release Date: 15 April 2001 (US) and 25 March 2002 (UK).
  • Running Time: 120 minutes (with adverts).
  • Rating: PG.
  • Country: UK.
  • Language: English.

Video Link

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