Hornblower: The Duchess and the Devil (1999)


The Duchess and the Devil is the third 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.

The story is loosely based on C.S. Forester’s novel Mr. Midshipman Hornblower, chapter “Hornblower, the Duchess, and the Devil”.


Acting Lieutenant Horatio Hornblower and his men launch a surprise attack on the French supply ship Le Reve and capture it.

Back on HMS Indefatigable, Captain Edward Pellew orders Hornblower to take command of Le Reve and sail it to Portsmouth with extremely important despatches. Pellew informs him that they have both been invited to a dinner party hosted by Major General Sir Hew Dalrymple, the Governor of Gibraltar. Among the guests is the widowed Duchess of Wharfedale, whose manner of speaking makes it clear she comes from the lower classes.

After the party, Captain Pellew orders Hornblower to also escort the Duchess home to England. However, before they can reach England, Le Reve is caught in a dense fog and finds that it has sailed smack into the middle of the Spanish fleet, which they had erroneously believed still anchored at Cadiz. At first Hornblower tries to disguise himself and his crew as French, but an officer aboard one of the Spanish ships knows of the recent capture of Le Reve. Forced by overwhelming odds to surrender, Hornblower reluctantly accepts the Duchess’s offer to hide the despatches rather than destroying them, as he had been ordered to do if captured.

Hornblower and his crew are imprisoned in the dungeons of Spanish fortress commanded by Don Alfredo de Massaredo, while the Duchess, in deference to her rank, is hosted as Don Alfredo’s guest. In his cell, Hornblower is reunited with another prisoner, who turns out to be Midshipman Archie Kennedy, who in episode one, “The Even Chance”, had been set adrift while unconscious by the vindictive Jack Simpson. Kennedy is now a physical and emotional wreck after undergoing prolonged torture as punishment for his multiple escape attempts. Kennedy confides to Hornblower that he recognises the supposed Duchess as a London stage actress named Katherine “Kitty” Cobham, who has assumed the role of the widowed Duchess of Wharfedale in order to get passage to England from Gibraltar. Don Alfredo, still supposing her to be a Duchess, arranges for her to travel on the Almeria, a ship bound for Oporto in neutral Portugal. Meanwhile, Hornblower’s crew chafes under Hornblower’s orders to bide their time until their re-discovered shipmate, Kennedy, who speaks Spanish, will be well enough to try to flee with them. The crew, moreover, resents Hornblower’s friendship with the “Duchess” and the attentions she convinces Don Alfredo to show him. Unbeknownst to Hornblower, they join the hot-headed Midshipman Hunter in a premature escape attempt. It fails, leaving Hunter with a gunshot wound. Hornblower, though he had nothing to do with it, takes sole blame for the failed escape attempt upon himself and submits to being tortured as punishment. Don Alfredo, who admires his gallantry, soon releases him, however.

Not long afterwards, Hornblower and Don Alfredo witness a nighttime naval encounter close to shore between the ship Almeria and the English Indefatigable. The encounter results in the Almeria foundering on the rocky shoals during a dangerous storm. Hornblower volunteers himself and his crew to take a rescue boat and brave the stormy waves to save those on board, pledging on his word of honour to Don Alfredo that he and his crew will afterwards return to the prison. Though not fully recovered from his wound, a contrite Midshipman Hunter insists on coming along. Those rescued include Kitty (aka the Duchess) and the injured captain of the Almeria whom Hunter dies in saving. They spend the rest of the night at sea in the rescue boat and in the morning are picked up by the Indefatigable. The Duchess returns the despatches to Captain Pellew, who informs Hornblower that in recognition for his bravery in the fireship attack on Gibraltar he has been promoted to lieutenant. Hornblower asks permission to honour his pledge to Don Alfredo to return to the Spanish prison after the rescue. Though not bound by Hornblower’s promise, his men choose to return with him. They are shortly released, however, by special order of the King and Queen of Spain in recompense for their gallantry in saving the Spanish captain and crew of the wrecked Almeria.


  • Ioan Gruffudd as Acting Lieutenant/Lieutenant Horatio Hornblower.
  • Robert Lindsay as Captain Sir Edward Pellew.
  • Cherie Lunghi as Katherine “Kitty” Cobham/the Duchess of Wharfedale.
  • Christopher Fulford as Midshipman Hunter.
  • Ronald Pickup as Don Massaredo.
  • Jamie Bamber as Midshipman Archie Kennedy.
  • Jonathan Coy as Lieutenant Bracegirdle.
  • John Woodvine as Sir Hew Dalrymple.
  • Paul Copley as Matthews.
  • Sean Gilder as Styles.
  • Jean-Yves Berteloot as Etienne de Vergasse.
  • Simon Sherlock as Oldroyd.
  • Vincent S. Boluda as Spanish Lieutenant.
  • Jolyon Baker as Captain Joubert.
  • Colin MacLachlan as Master Bowles.

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.
    • Delia Dine … executive producer.
    • Vernon Lawrence … executive producer.
    • Peter Richardson … line producer.
  • Writer(s): Patrick Harbinson.
  • Music: John E. Keane.
  • Cinematography: Alex Curtis.
  • Editor(s): Keith Palmer.
  • Production:
    • A+E Networks (in association with).
    • Meridian Broadcasting.
    • United Film and Television Productions.
  • Distributor(s):
    • A&E Home Video (2000) (USA) (DVD).
    • A&E Home Video (2002) (USA) (VHS).
    • A+E Networks (all media).
    • Cinema Club (2002) (UK) (VHS).
    • Cinema Club (2003) (UK) (DVD).
    • ITV – Independent Television (1999) (UK) (TV).
    • ITV DVD (2006) (UK) (DVD).
    • NHK-BS2 (2002) (Japan) (TV).
    • Reel Corporation (2002) (Australia) (DVD).
    • Reel DVD (2002) (Australia) (DVD).
  • Original Network: ITV1.
  • Release Date: 24 February 1999.
  • Running Time: 120 minutes (with adverts).
  • Rating: PG.
  • Country: UK.
  • Language: English.

Video Link

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