Friday, July 1, 2005

The Dilettante's Guide To Hornblower

Hornblower, the lavish series of made-for-television movies based upon C.S. Forester's novels about the titular British naval hero, first aired in the United States on the A&E cable network in 1999 after premiering in England on ITV the previous year, and was an instant ratings hit and critical darling. It took home the Emmy for Outstanding Miniseries, and rightly so: Hornblower is deliriously entertaining. Life in His Majesty's Navy in the final years of the eighteenth century looks like hell: the sanitation is sketchy, the food is crawling with maggots, floggings are a daily occurrence, limbs routinely get blown off by errant cannonballs, and everyone is forced to wear goofy hats. It's a curious blend of chaos and propriety: war is conducted under a series of polite, civilized rules adhered to by all parties, and yet it still manages to be vicious and appalling. The end result is perversely fascinating.