Friday, December 28, 2007

DVD Review: Horatio Hornblower Collector's Edition

Long before he became known to American audiences as William Wilberforce (in Amazing Grace) or Reed Richards (in Fantastic Four), Welsh actor Ioan Gruffudd made an indelible impression as Horatio Hornblower in the A&E movie series. For the first time, all eight movies are available on DVD in Horatio Hornblower Collector's Edition.

Based on C. S. Forrester's novels, the films trace the career of Horatio Hornblower, a young sailor in the British Navy who finds himself thrust into the middle of the battles of the Napoleonic War. The films, like the books, trace Hornblower's amazing career from Midshipman to Commander.

Although these were made-for-television films, each one reflects outstanding and lavish production values that leaves the viewer believing that they could have been major motion pictures. No expense was spared in the production of these films.

The casting of Gruffudd, who was largely unknown at the time, was nothing short of sheer genius. Gruffudd captures the essence of Hornblower's character: a young idealist who is very green and somewhat naive in the first movie and grows and matures over the course of the eight installments. Gruffudd portrays Hornblower as a true, if not somewhat flawed, hero. He is a hero to be admired but also to learn from. His strong sense of morals and duty are refreshing and greatly needed today.

The supporting cast is also outstanding and rounds out the wide array of characters that we grow attached to over the course of the films. Robert Lindsey, a legend from British stage and film, is Sir Edward Pellew, Hornblower's commander and mentor. Jamie Bamber (Band of Brothers) adds a wonderful dimension to the films as Hornblower's best friend and shipmate Archie Kennedy. Paul Copley (Matthews) and Sean Gilder (Styles) are two fellow crewmen who fight side-by-side with Hornblower and it is through them we see the growing respect that Hornblower receives from his fellow sailors through the progression of the story.

This DVD set is also jam-packed with bonus features including a behind-the-scenes featurette about the production of the film; an interview with Ioan Gruffudd; a profile of English warships; and much, much more.

We watched all eight films together as a family and thoroughly enjoyed them. There are some disturbing images (war footage) but the violence of the battles is not overly graphic. There is also brief language but overall they still make appropriate viewing for families with older children. In addition, the overall themes of duty and honor make these films must viewing.

Horatio Hornblower Collector's Edition is available from the A&E Store.

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