When it was originally telecast, this four-part miniseries proved that swashbuckling films, highly popular in the mid-20th century, remained a viable film genre. Moreover, it demonstrated that a family film devoid of salty language and gratuitous sex can still pack plenty of zing. For its efforts, it won a 1999 Emmy and millions of admiring fans. As Hornblower, Ioan Gruffudd deserves a goodly share of credit for the film's success for projecting the youthful idealism and stiff upper lip needed to make his character come alive. The competing qualities Gruffudd exhibits -- innocent vulnerability vs. plucky resolve -- win him the sympathy of the audience early on, and that's important in a film of this length. Having passed his first test, Hornblower then goes on to service under the firm but fair-minded Sir Edward Pellew (Robert Lindsay), captain of The Indefatigable, and again proves his mettle as he rises in status. Gruffudd and Robert Lindsay work well together as the friendship between Hornblower and Pellew grows and they show reserved admiration for each other. Director Andrew Grieve seasons the film with plenty of villains among British allies and enemies. Sea and land battles are well-staged with booming canon fire and hand-to-hand combat, although the film downplays the gory aftermath of violence. But if the film occasionally resembles an innocuous Disney production, its excellent acting, pacing, story, authentic costumes, and sailing vessels -- including frigates and corvettes -- more than redeem it.
by Mike Cummings review